Browse Publications Technical Papers 2004-01-2582
2004-07-19

Designing to Mitigate Food Growing Failures in Space 2004-01-2582

Future space life support systems may use crop plants to grow most of the crew’s food. A harvest failure can reduce the food available for future consumption. If the previously stored food is insufficient to last until the next harvest, the crew may go hungry. This paper considers how the overall food supply system should be designed to cope with food production failures. The food supply system for a mission will use grown food, or stored food, or both. The optimum food supply mix depends on the costs and failure probabilities of stored and grown food. A simple food system model assumes that either we obtain the nominal harvest or a failure occurs and no food is harvested. Given the probability that any particular harvest fails, it is easy to compute the expected number of failures and the total food shortfall over a mission. If some food is grown and the probability of harvest failure is high, a non-redundant system has too high a probability that the crew will have no food for a full harvest period. Food supply reliability must be increased either by supplying more food initially or by increasing food production capacity. We can obtain a very reliable food supply even when the harvest failure rate is high. If the cost of growing food is much less than the cost of providing stored food, it is better to provide redundant food growing capacity than to increase initial storage. A more realistic biomass production failure model would allow the harvest amount or time to vary from the expected values, but such failures have much less impact than a complete harvest failure.

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