Plan to Grow Hemp in Space Starting 2019

growing hemp in space
Will Space-Grown CBD Launch Cosmic Commerce?

Kentucky-based bioengineering company Space Tango is aiming to launch a research study exploring the growth of hemp in Earth’s low orbit starting early next year.

Space Tango, which has been around since 2014, specializes in the creation of “microgravity environments” for International Space Station-based research experiments. Essentially, they design and create third-party plant growing “modules” that get sent up to the ISS to operate alongside its many other NASA- and international-sponsored research spaces. Space Tango hopes to build on its previous work in the cosmic plant space and push forward to become an early builder of the burgeoning space economy.

What is Microgravity and What Does It Have to Do With Growing Plants?

Microgravity is the proper name for what is commonly and incorrectly referred to as “zero gravity.” A micro-g environment, like the ISS, is one where the force of gravity is so weak that objects can maintain free fall and appear to float around weightlessly. The near-lack of gravity in micro-g environments has fascinated plant researchers because of the opportunity to, as Space Tango Science Advisory Team member Dr. Joe Chappell explained,

“[Understand] how plants react in an environment where the traditional stress of gravity is removed. [Such research can] provide new insights into how adaptations come about and how researchers might take advantage of such changes for the discovery of new characteristics, traits, biomedical applications, and efficacy.”

NASA launched its own “plant growth module,” known colloquially as “Veggie,” in 2014, but Space Tango is seemingly the first private company to jump on the low-orbit plant, private research game.

Preliminary studies have suggested to Dr. Chappell and his co-workers that “when plants are ‘stressed,’ they pull from a genetic reservoir to produce compounds that allow them to adapt and survive.” Presumably, they hope that hemp, when subjected to this altered level of gravity, will more readily manufacture compounds like cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid currently having a health food and pharmaceutical heyday.

Why Grow Pot in Space?

With the CBD market growing to nearly $400 million in 2017 and the FDA and DEA already approving and legalizing some CBD-containing pharmaceuticals, there seems to be no end in sight to the cannabidiol craze. Naturally, all of this cash flying around means that hemp manufacturers will likely be getting creative too when it comes to increasing plant productivity. Really creative.

Space Tango is partnering with Kentucky hemp seed producer Atalo Holdings and online CBD oil retailer Anavii Market for the project. When it came to discussing end goals, a Space Tango representative explained that its “new enterprise will explore the various aspects of hemp … particularly those associated with biomedical and health uses with a focus on enhancing its applications, efficacy, and value.”

It’s not Space Tango’s first time partnering with others for microgravity research; in 2017, the company worked with Anheuser-Busch to test barley seeds in a similar capacity, a study that Forbes said: “provided key findings regarding seed exposure and seed germination.”

And if growing hemp fields in space seems a bit far-fetched of an idea, Space Tango doesn’t seem concerned. Explaining their goals, a representative said that the company envisions “a future where the next important breakthroughs in healthcare and technology will occur off the planet[,] creating a new global market 250 miles up in low Earth orbit.” While much of their enthusiasm lives in a future so unlimited it seems to currently be little more than science fiction, Space Tango is making clear that in the off chance the inevitable space economy kicks in sooner rather than later, they want to be the ones at the forefront.

“We are quickly evolving into more than a space service company,” Founder and Chairman Kris Kimel told Space News. “Our plans include a significant focus on product development and value creation. We also want to … raise awareness of microgravity as a new frontier for medical solutions for Earth.”

The project is scheduled to launch February 2019 and may prove to be the beginning of not only increased hemp studies but also the entire cosmic marketplace. For Space Tango, that’s hardly an out-of-this-world proposition.