Space food for lunar exploration grows in Toulouse
Tickets to go to the Moon with the Artemis program will be expensive, and not just for European astronauts who share this ambition. It will also be necessary to jostle for the technologies that will make up the future lunar base, with the aim of having a lasting presence of Man on our natural satellite. “There will also be competition between all the European countries and other partners of NASA, at the origin of the Artemis program, on equipment. It will therefore be necessary to be perfect and essential on all points“, testifies Paul-Hector Oliver, the CEO of the Toulouse startup Orius.
The biotech Orius welcomes the Marseillais Capsum to its capital
With their bioreactor, the three co-founders of Orius are taking a step forward in their close collaboration with Cnes (Credits: Rémi Benoit).
In this spirit, biotech is at the origin of a vast partnership and consortium which was unveiled in mid-November in Toulouse, the capital of space. This encompasses a multitude of actors with very different profiles. In addition to Orius, the Toulouse National Interest Market (Min) is part of the trip, as are Cnes, the Toulouse-Purpan engineering school, Paris-Saclay University and its research chair on the food of the future, the French chef Thierry Marx and his school “Cuisine Mode d’Emploi(s)”. Beautiful people for a well-defined objective: to design the space food for the astronauts who will go to the Moon tomorrow.
The challenge of this unique consortium is simple: to do everything so that the country recognized worldwide for its gastronomy is the one that will feed the astronauts who will eventually go and live on the Moon. “To achieve this objective, we were obliged to broaden the partnership as much as possible in order to reach all parts of the subject.“, justifies Paul-Hector Oliver.
For the record, it all started within the Tech The Moon incubator, dedicated exclusively to the lunar economy and owned by Cnes. The 2021 promotion, which was the first of this new organism, then included Orius, which was incubated for a year. This allowed it to adapt the bioreactors it markets for space power. This machine makes it possible, naturally and without chemicals, to promote the cultivation of boosted foods by reproducing any climate on demand.
“The Moon will be an intermediate base to go to Mars. So we need a life base on the Moon to work and eat. In this context, we have therefore contracted an R&D contract with Orius to see what space supply we could create on site. And what particularly interests us with this biotech is the low energy impact of its machines when we know that in a lunar mission everything is rationed”, explains Caroline Laurent, director of orbital systems and operations at Cnes .
As for the Min of Toulouse, beyond being a source of raw materials for this consortium, the establishment also intends to create a FabLab around the food of tomorrow based on the work carried out for the lunar exploration. “It’s intellectually exciting to be associated with such a project.“, rejoices the owner of the place, Maguelone Pontier, who already welcomes around fifty young companies on various subjects.
All the project stakeholders met in Toulouse, within the Min, in mid-November, to formalize their partnership (Credits: Rémi Benoit).
As far as the scientific fabric is concerned, the Toulouse-Purpan engineering school will, for example, provide trainees to Orius to move forward on this project, while the Paris-Saclay research chair led by chef Thierry Marx will carry out certain works and also make its human resources available.
The challenge of culinary interest
Beyond putting on a good face with ESA and NASA by involving as many partners as possible on this project in order to be as complete as possible, this collective really wants to obtain concrete results quickly. “We have two years ahead of us to be able to have results“, emphasizes Thierry Marx. “Although this cooperation is recent, we are already at work and we have had several meetings“, would like to reassure Maguelone Pontier.
Chef Thierry Marx intends to use molecular cuisine in this project (Credits: Rémi Benoit).
“The objective of this partnership is to bring together research, innovation, scientific mediation, local producers, chefs and students from high schools and engineering schools around innovative projects serving food in space. From the choice of variety to the development of recipes and the production process, this partnership will focus on developing and carrying out concrete tests to design a diet for astronauts on lunar soil”. specifies the collective in a joint press release.
If Orius has developed the technological process to grow food in space in collaboration with CNES, and certain recipes, there remains a challenge on the material as such. “We can’t take 300 kilos of aluminum to the moon. We need to lighten our machine“, says Paul-Hector Oliver. A crucial point which partly explains the presence of Cnes in the partnership. In addition, the form of the meals worked will have a major place in the research program. “We know how to grow food plants, but food is not our primary market. We therefore rely on catering professionals to bring culinary interest and taste to our recipes for astronauts.“, continues the entrepreneur. Today, space travelers take their food already ready and vacuum packed with them on each mission launch. With the ambition of producing food in “hostile” terrain, in other words space farming is therefore a real revolution in space food that is being prepared in Toulouse.