SNC Wins NASA Awards for Adv Plant Habitat (Learn More, Multi-Video)

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been recognized by NASA with two awards for its exceptional work on the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) plant growth system, which is currently bringing more fresh food and advanced plant physiology research to space on the International Space Station (ISS).

The prestigious awards include the Exceptional Public Achievement medal honoring two individuals and a group NASA certificate for SNC’s significant team contributions to NASA’s mission: 

  • The Exceptional Public Achievement medal was awarded to two key SNC engineers, Gil Tellez and Matt DeMars. 
    • The award commends high-quality, innovative approaches that significantly or substantially improve operations, resulting in the advancement of the agency’s goals.
  • The NASA group certificate was given to a select number of SNC engineers, support staff and management for quality results, customer satisfaction, effective management and development of innovative work.
    • Awardees included Adam Anderson, Mike Bourget, Matt DeMars, Jim Harris, Robert Morrow, Robert Richter, Gil Tellez, Sarah Waddill and Russ Wallace.

(Learn More from researchers Robert Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul of the University of Florida, about the Advanced Plant experiments on the International Space Station in which they have already learned a great deal—and gotten some interesting surprises—about how plants grow in space. The ability to grow food in space will be very important to support future missions beyond low Earth orbit into deep space. Courtesy of NASA Johnson and YouTube)

Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) Plant Growth System

“Knowing how to grow fresh food and plants to process air and water for life support is critical to the future of humans being able to live in space for long periods of time,” said Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s ORBITEC business unit, a part of SNC’s Space Systems.

“We are delighted to help create the technology that makes future human spaceflight more cost effective.”

The APH provide the environmental conditions to grow plants in microgravity, test new technologies and conduct controlled science experiments, which are expected to be key in making agriculture and fresh food more prominent in extended space exploration.

Information and technology from APH are also being used in other space biology experiments, where specific growing conditions are beneficial or required.

The system is the next generation of biological systems, the largest of its kind, providing long-duration plant science capabilities.

It’s self-contained and automated, which significantly reduces the required crew time to grow plants and ideally will lead to a more reliable and fruitful crop at harvest.

The plant habitat is about the size of a small kitchen oven with precise controls of the shoot and root environments and the system easily integrates into existing ISS infrastructure for sustainable operations.

How it Works

  • The APH closely controls and regulates parameters such as temperature, humidity, light levels, photoperiods, moisture provided to specimens, CO2 levels, ethylene levels and air flow.
  • The APH system uses red, blue, green and a broad spectrum of white LED lights.
  • Among other plants, Arabidopsis seeds will be grown, which are small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard. Changes in this plant type are easily observed, making it a very useful model.
  • Data gathered from 180 sensors within the habitat will be relayed back in-real time to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
  • Images from three cameras will be available for periodic photographs.
  • APH will provide a trove of other data for bioscience research.
Fatih Ozmen, owner and CEO of SNC

“We’ve always known that SNC is home to many very talented employees doing innovative and excellent work,” said Fatih Ozmen, owner and CEO of SNC.

“It’s a great honor to have NASA recognize them as well.  I couldn’t be more proud of the team and their dedication to the future of space. 

“APH is a perfect example of SNC leading the future of space exploration,” 

The APH is a first-of-its-kind, enclosed plant growth system and environmentally controlled chamber. 

SNC worked with NASA engineers to develop the equipment, which arrived on the ISS earlier this year, and expects to have its first plant test aboard the station this fall.

“Our team is truly doing incredible science with plant growth in space,” said Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s Propulsion and Environmental Systems business unit.

“It’s exciting enough for us just to be doing the work, so any extra recognition is truly an honor.”

Engineers from SNC’s ORBITEC, located in Madison, Wisconsin, spent nearly five years on APH, refining technologies with KSC and honing in on a design that would allow the system to be treated like a plug-and-play unit and comprise of subsystems that could be easily removed and replaced.

(Learn More, courtesy of NASA and YouTube)

The APH award ceremony was held August 24 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Recognized as one of “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Space,” Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) provides customer-focused advanced technology solutions in the areas of space, aviation, electronics and systems integration.