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FoodTech for Space: the final frontier

Can extra-terrestrial food technologies help solve food security issues on earth?

The FoodTech industry has seen record funding levels in recent years, as investors begin to recognise the disruptive potential of new technologies in a sector rapidly responding to health and environmental needs.

Yet, for NASA, emerging food technologies represent an opportunity to develop revolutionary extra-terrestrial food production methods. Under the leadership of Bill Nelson, they have launched their Deep Space Food Challenge which is encouraging teams to develop innovative food technologies and systems for use in space.

As space exploration increases through Blue Origin and Space X, and human exploration of Mars moves ever closer to becoming a reality, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have partnered up in a first-of-its-kind initiative to seek tech solutions to the food challenges currently faced by space crews.

A video released by NASA emphasised that the complexities underlying terrestrial food systems are not easily mirrored in the context of space. Food production and preparation on Earth require energy, water, the ingredients themselves and materials to transform those ingredients into nutritional and appetising meals. Participating teams are being asked to address these needs in their entries, with potential for the winning technologies to be integrated into wider food systems used in space missions.

The Deep Space Food Challenge was launched in January 2021, and participants are currently attending webinars aimed at aiding idea development. The listed goals for the Challenge include filling food gaps for three-year missions, feeding a crew of four astronauts and creating palatable, nutritious and safe foods that are quick for astronauts to prepare.

Challenge organisers have also stated their hope that the technologies and systems developed over the course of this project may help solve some of the pressing issues facing the Earth’s food systems. Food insecurity remains one of the most significant problems for populations across the globe; a recent United Nations report highlighted that the number of people going hungry has increased by 60 million over the past seven years, and by 10 million between 2018 and 2019.

The factors driving this increase are myriad, and include increased incidents of conflict, economic downturns, and most recently the COVID-19 crisis. Communities in highly urban or extremely rural areas, and those who face frequent or severe climate disasters, also see a higher prevalence of undernourishment and food insecurity. These problems are compounded by the knowledge that current terrestrial food systems must be capable of feeding 10 billion people by 2050, as populations expand and arable land availability diminishes.

By ‘pushing the boundaries of food technology production’ to ensure the health of future space explorers, Challenge organisers hope that the initiative will also ‘enable new avenues for food production around the world.’ Clearly, the Deep Space Food Challenge has the potential to have a significant positive impact on global food systems, as well as help future ground-breaking long-duration space missions to become a reality.

Nicole Junkermann is a leading international entrepreneur and investor, focused on disrupting traditional business models through industry-defining technologies. Junkermann is the founder and Principal of NJF Holdings, a London-based private investment company with a portfolio across Europe, the U.S., and Asia. NJF Capital, the venture capital arm of NJF Holdings, has assembled an investment portfolio of more than 40 companies, one of which is Swarm Technologies which is to be acquired by Space X. With experience sitting across both sides of the investment table, Junkermann brings a unique perspective to identifying visionary entrepreneurs with pioneering business ideas.

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