The Chinese Moon Farm: China’s Chang’e-4 mission has brought a small farm to the moon. A new study on the results has now been published.
With the lander Chang’e-4, the Chinese space agency CNSA also brought a small farm (The Chinese Moon Farm) to the far side of the moon: the payload for biological experiments BEP (Biological Experiment Payload). This experiment was intended to grow the first plants on the moon. The results of the experiment were published in two studies. The first was released in June and the second in October 2023.
Chang’e 4 landed on the moon on January 3, 2019. The BEP load contained cotton, potato, Arabidopsis (pod cress), and rapeseed. It also contained fly eggs, yeast, and 18 milliliters of water. The experiment was carried out under constant atmospheric pressure over the next eight days.
The experiment is intended to contribute to the development of future The Bioregenerative life support systems (BLSS) that could emerge beyond low-Earth orbit in the future. (The Chinese Moon Farm)
The research group concluded that plants can grow on the Moon despite the intense radiation, low gravity, and long-lasting intense light.
The Moon Experiment for Plant Growth (The Chinese Moon Farm)
The load weighed 2,608 kilograms, was 198 millimeters high, and 173 millimeters in diameter. This corresponds to a total volume of 0.82 liters and 0.42 liters of bioactivity space. A guide tube made it possible to direct the light into the interior of the container.
The plants should produce oxygen and nutrients through photosynthesis and be fed by the fruit flies. Meanwhile, the yeast should act as a decomposer, processing the waste from the flies and dead plants to produce additional nutrients for the ecosystem.
Before the experiment, experts were concerned that the plants would not be able to sprout under the high light intensity and strong radiation on the moon. That’s exactly why the research team decided against artificial light and wanted to test the conditions using natural light. (The Chinese Moon Farm)
Since there is hardly any atmosphere on the moon, the sunlight there is much more intense than on Earth. The payload was also not designed for the radiation exposure on the moon.
After the lander arrived on the surface, the temperature of the biosphere was set at 24 degrees Celsius and the seeds were watered. A few days later, cotton, rapeseed, and potato seeds germinated. The first images from inside the BEP have been published.
The Chang’e-4 Moon Farm: Failed but still a success
When the moonlit night began, the outside temperature initially fell to -52 degrees Celsius and then further to -190 degrees Celsius, but the experiment continued. The longevity of the BEP was to be tested and the germinated plants died at these outside temperatures. Neither the potatoes germinated nor the fruit flies hatched. The total duration of the experiment was nine days instead of the planned 100 days.
Some of the plants were able to germinate successfully under the natural sunlight and the radiation conditions of the moon. However, future farms would have to be protected from the cool lunar nights that last 14 Earth days. Whether the plants are healthy or not needs further research. Nevertheless, the experiment showed that regenerative ecosystems can be built on the moon. (This Is What The Chinese Moon Farm on The Far Side of The Moon Became)
Researching growing plants in habitats on the Moon, Mars, and space is important for many reasons. Not only do they provide a source of food and reduce the need for resupply missions, but they also remove carbon dioxide and provide fresh oxygen. They help with waste recycling and contribute to the well-being of the crew. (The Chinese Moon Farm)
Traditional Environmental Control and Life-Support Systems (ECLSS) rely on mechanical components. These will eventually break and need to be replaced or repaired. A Bioregenerative system (BLSS technologies), on the other hand, is intended to renew itself over time.
For years, astronauts have been conducting experiments on plant growth and algae aboard the International Space Station (ISS). There is the vegetable production system Veggie (Vegetable Production System), the passive orbital nutrient delivery system Ponds (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System), the advanced plant habitat APH (Advanced Plant Habitat) or the real-time management system for plant habitats Pharmer (Plant Habitat Avionics Real-time Manager). However, it is still unknown how stellar bodies influence BLSS systems.
To the studies
The first study appeared on June 20, 2023, in the journal Microgravity Science and Technology: The Lunar One-Sixth Low Gravity Conductiveness to the Improvement of the Cold Resistance of Plants. (The Chinese Moon Farm)
The second study was published on October 17, 2023, in the journal Acta Astronautica: The first biological experiment on lunar surface for Humankind: Device and results.