Orbitec has landed a $3 million, one-year contract with NASA to build a specialized greenhouse to grow plants in space.
The Madison company has been working for well over a decade on plant units for use in space. The current one under development — called the Advanced Plant Habitat — will be about the size of four microwave ovens and will be used to study plant growth on the International Space Station, Orbitec spokesman Paul Zamprelli said.
He said Orbitec will develop the environmental control systems for the unit, including LED lighting, humidity, heat and ventilation.
“It will grow plants 24 to 26 times faster than the best garden in the United States,” Zamprelli said, “because we control the lights, humidity and environment, and it’s on 24/7, 365 (days a year). So it’s growing, growing, growing.”
It’s the next step of a vision of Orbitec founders Eric Rice, Ron Teeter and Tom Crabb for habitation of the moon and long-duration travel to Mars, by integrating the plants and their humid environment into the life-support system for the astronauts, Zamprelli said.
Meanwhile, a more simplified plant system devised by Orbitec, called Veggie, will head to the International Space Station in March.
Smaller and more hands-on than the advanced unit under development, Veggie will be part of the payload on the privately owned SpaceX cargo supply rocket scheduled to launch March 16 to bring supplies to the space station.
Astronauts will be able to grow just about anything in Veggie, Zamprelli said, including lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and flowers. When the vegetables are grown, they will be flown back to Earth and NASA will check them for microbes or other impurities that could harm the astronauts. Eventually, they are intended to supplement the astronauts’ diet on the space station.
The advanced greenhouse is expected to be developed over the next couple of years. NASA said it hopes to send the plant chamber to the International Space Station around 2016.
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About 15 of Orbitec’s 75 employees are part of the unit developing the plant systems, led by project manager Robert Richter.
Orbitec, founded in 1988, had an early version of its greenhouse fly on the International Space Station for more than two months in 2002. Dwarf wheat and Brassica rapa — a member of the mustard family — were grown there.
EatStreet closes part
of funding round
EatStreet, Madison, has received $3.7 million from investors — part of what’s expected to be a $5 million funding round, according to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
EatStreet is an online restaurant-ordering business. One year ago, the company got its first major outside funding of $2 million.
Founded in 2010, EatStreet now works with more than 3,500 restaurants in more than 50 cities, and has 25 full-time and 20 part-time employees, CEO and co-founder Matt Howard said.
“Since day one, Eat Street has continuously evolved, but the mission has stayed the same: help restaurants be successful,” Howard said.
He said the funds will let the company expand into new markets.
“This investment will allow us to double our workforce and empower us to push boundaries and tackle new challenges in the local commerce space,” Howard said.