With all the challenges earth faces in the form of global warming, resource constraints and geopolitical unrest, many among us are already working on technology to get humanity into space for the long haul.
And sure, while we’re still working out how to get a bunch of us up into space permanently, perhaps the biggest puzzle we need to solve for long-term space colonization is figuring out how we’ll feed ourselves. And while it’d be nice to just store a bunch of Funyuns and Tang for those multiyear trips up to the nearest moon base or space station, the reality is long-term space survival will require self-sustaining, circular food systems that can scale and operate over decades.
Luckily for us, Japan is here for it in the form of a new initiative called Space Food X, a program to develop new food technologies and systems to solve the challenges of food production in space.
At the center of this new initiative is a consortium of 30 different organizations from Japan comprised of a variety of technology and food companies, universities, investment firms and researchers. The group of 30 is led by three founding members: JAXA (Japan’s space agency, the equivalent of US’s NASA), RealTech Fund (a Japanese venture fund) and SigmaXYZ, a consulting firm and organization.
(As both disclosure and humble-brag, I have to note that SigmaXYZ is also a partner with our company, as we co-produce Japan’s leading foodtech event in the Smart Kitchen Summit Japan. In fact, the Space Food X Deputy Director is Tanaka “Hiro” Hirotaka, one of the chairs for SKS Japan. And yes, you can bet I will get Hiro to talk space food at SKS in Seattle).
You can see all the companies participating in Space Food X below:
What will Space Food X be working on? From the (translated) website:
In order to live for a long time on the moon or Mars, various techniques and wisdom are required, such as techniques for efficiently producing food with less resources locally. In addition, the problem of food is a common issue even on the earth where the population increases. We at Space Food X combine the power of superior technology, business and culture from Japan to solve the food problem that is a common problem of the universe and the earth.
The announcement points to a variety of recent technology and food science developments in the areas of cellular meat, algae and ‘plant factories’ that will be core to their new efforts to develop long term solutions, as well advancements in robotics, AI and 3D food printing.
From the (translated) release:
By making the best use of these excellent technologies and food culture, it is possible to construct closed material circulation systems, food production systems, food supply services, etc. with a high degree of superiority in space life. Products and services are considered to be able to solve the food problem that is a common issue in the universe and the earth.
The new group has a phased approach that will ultimately move towards fully sustainable space based food systems. The five phases which will take place over a twenty year time period culminating in 2040. This future is visualized in the image below. Just look at those happy space residents sitting around a table, laughing, enjoying their space food!:
Of course, Japan isn’t alone in focusing on developing new food technologies to feed people in space. NASA and the European Space Agency as well as Russia and China’s space agencies are all working on developing long-term space food solutions. That said, none of the other efforts will produce teleported sushi (Open Meals, the company behind this idea – is a part of Spacefood X), so they’re all instantly at a serious disadvantage.
Stay tuned for more information on this effort (and for an upcoming presentation on the topic at SKS North America).