Question & Answer
Today, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office has announced that they are partnering with Nanoracks via their Agriculture Technology (AgTech) Incentive Program, an effort that supports the development of cutting-edge programs to boost the emirate’s AgTech capabilities and promote innovation.
As the largest commercial user of the International Space Station, we are building the first-ever commercial space research program. We are seeking through innovations in space-based AgTech to solve key food sustainability challenges on Earth, mostly caused by climate change, which can help to ‘green the desert.’ The incentives from ADIO will allow Nanoracks to build the first StarLab Space Farming Center in Abu Dhabi as a commercial space research center. The Center will be focused on advancing knowledge and technology about organisms and food that are produced in the harsh and alien environment of space.
You can read the full announcement here.
Below, please enjoy our Q&A with Nanoracks’ Marketing Director, Abby Dickes, and Nanoracks’ CEO, Jeffrey Manber, to learn more about Nanoracks goals in our AgTech ventures.
Abby: What is the StarLab Space Farming Center?
Jeffrey: Nanoracks has launched an ambitious international program to use the unique and harsh environment of space to develop commercially viable organisms and products in the fields of AgTech, climate science, sustainability, and robotic innovation. StarLab will provide the technology and access necessary to overcome the direst challenges facing our Planet Earth today, from climate change to water scarcity, and to one day in turn, help sustain tomorrow’s famers, innovators, and space explorers.
Abby: Why is Nanoracks entering this new marketplace? How does this fit in with your long-term vision for Nanoracks?
Jeffrey: We believe passionately that our growing utilization of the space environment can reap results that will change the lives for billions of people suffering from an increasingly fragile food security chain and being uprooted because of fundamental and historic changes in the climate. I see us bringing together two diverse trends: the increasing privatization of space assets, like our orbiting Outposts, and having us utilize these Outposts as our own customer for in-space farming and terrestrial food development programs.
Sadly, with each passing decade, more areas of the Earth will mimic the harsh environment of space. Starting in Fall 2020, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) and other world-class organizations, Nanoracks is committing to seek to help mitigate this reality and help create a more green and secure future for humanity.
The UAE is an ideal long-term partner both because of its vision in space exploration and understanding of the challenges to long-term food security. The UAE, which imports more than 90% of the nation’s food, is committed to addressing key global food security challenges. We are dedicated to working with local partners, universities, government, private sector organizations, and entrepreneurs throughout Abu Dhabi and the UAE to leverage our new technologies and accelerate Abu Dhabi’s commitment to promoting innovation aimed at increasing food production in desert environments.
A rendering of greenhouses mounted externally to the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock on the International Space Station. Credit: Nanoracks / Mack Crawford
Abby: So, space can really help accelerate new Earthly AgTech products?
Jeffrey: Thirty years of research has produced tantalizing evidence that the environment of space, while very strange and harsh, can produce AgTech products that are hardier than those on Earth, or grow seedlings more quickly than on Earth. It seems that the mix of radiation present in outer space and the microgravity environment, combine to yield unique biomass products.
More recently, scientists have also concluded that the stress factors in microgravity help us better understand how plant microbiomes work, leading to improved yields on the Earth.
Much of the technology used for vertical, urban and closed environment agriculture initially came from space research from 30 years ago, and Nanoracks is excited to synergize these technologies back with in-space exploration.
Abby: What is unique about this Nanoracks effort from past in-space research programs?
Jeffrey: With the StarLab formation, an area that has been previously dedicated to the public sector is now being undertaken within the commercial sector by a private company. Previously, space agencies around the world have funded either university or government researchers, mostly to focus on how to envision a future where astronauts can grow crops in space.
Here there are several differences. First, this is a commercial effort, one which if it replicates previous space markets that transitioned from public to private sectors, such as launch vehicles and satellite services, should move far quicker and efficient than ever before. And equally important, our immediate market focus will be space-based innovations in AgTech that have applications on the Earth. For us, this is front and center about helping overcome the devastating impact of climate change and food security on the driest regions of the Earth.
Abby: Where do we start? What are the key research areas?
Jeffrey: Our StarLab researchers will focus on advancing knowledge and technology about food produced in space and on the equally challenging and hostile climates on Earth to help overcome the effects of climate change, water scarcity, and more.
Moving forward, Nanoracks will be partnering with world-class providers to operate autonomous platforms in space, where sophisticated space farming research and production can thrive. For 10 years, Nanoracks has invested in microgravity research platforms that have allowed us to become the largest commercial user of the International Space Station. Going forward, Nanoracks is pushing this investment and expertise into larger, independently owned and operated space stations where the Company is focusing on using its unique access to space to develop products and biomass that will change the way humans can survive on Earth.
A rendering of greenhouses operating inside a StarLab Outpost. Credit: Nanoracks / Mack Crawford
Abby: Can you tell me more about today’s announcement with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO)?
As our first partner to be announced, ADIO is committing to a multi-year economic development effort to allow Nanoracks to build a world-class, historic commercial space research center in Abu Dhabi. Nanoracks’ international team of researchers will bring expertise in bioengineering, plant sciences, genomic seed technology, closed loop environment systems, robotics, and automated software systems. These researchers will work closely with the existing Nanoracks team and in-space products and with our partners in the UAE, allowing the company to rapidly advance to market leadership in the critical areas of climate science, and sustainability.
This historic effort will unite multiple organizations and companies to focus together on using the frontier of space for the betterment of humankind. Everyone at Nanoracks is committed to assuring our leadership role opens a new chapter in the use of the space frontier.
Abby: Any final comments?
Jeffrey: I have come to appreciate the privilege that Nanoracks has in our access to space. Today is our first public commitment to using this access for the greater good of humankind. For those who are interested in getting further involved in these efforts, on both the research and business side, please do drop us a line.
Nanoracks LLC, an XO Markets company, is the world’s leading provider of commercial space services. Nanoracks believes commercial space utilization will enable innovation through in-space manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, fiber optics – and more, allow for revolutionary Earth observation, and make space a key player in finding the solution to Earth’s problems.
Today, the company offers low-cost, high-quality solutions to the most pressing needs for satellite deployment, basic and educational research, and more – in over 30 nations worldwide. Nanoracks’ future goals are focused on the re-purposing of the upper stages of launch vehicles in-space and converting these structures into commercial habitats, both humanly and robotically tended, throughout the solar system.
XO Markets, the world’s first commercial space holding company, includes Nanoracks LLC, Nanoracks UAE, and wholly owned subsidiaries DreamUp and Nanoracks Space Outpost Europe (Nanoracks-Europe).