While botanists, agronomists and other scientists in myriad fields have been hard at work here on earth trying to unlock the secrets to developing higher-quality, higher-yielding and more resilient and robust coffee plants, coffee in space remains largely uncharted territory.
Colorado-based firm Front Range Biosciences is helping to lead a legitimate charge into the great unknown, packing up plant tissue culture from coffee and hemp to send them aboard a March 2020 SpaceX cargo flight.
FRB is partnering with the private firm SpaceCells USA Inc. and the University of Colorado-based BioServe Space Technologies to see how the cells from the 480 plant cultures respond to limited- and zero-gravity environments aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” said Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Co-Founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences. “There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications.”
Incidentally, this is not the first time people have gazed towards the cold expanse of outer space in search of commercial coffee applications. Earlier this year, a Dubai startup called Space Roasters made headlines with a ridiculous idea to commercialize coffee that was roasted by heat caused from re-entry into the atmosphere. This, of course, never happened, and the company’s original domain is now occupied by someone rightly making fun of the bogus venture. In October of 2018, the Brooklyn, New York, roasting company Superlost raised $424 on Kickstarter with a promise to send five pounds of coffee via a balloon into space before the coffee would be delivered to backers. That, of course, also never happened.
Leaning less on gimmickry, FRB already has a track record in the coffee industry through its partnership with Frinj Coffee, which is working to create plants that are suitable for commercial growth in California.
The goal here is not to someday grow coffee in space, but to leverage humanity’s relatively newfound access to space to help conduct research towards terrestrial goals. In coffee, that may mean more resilient plants as climates change throughout the coffee-growing world, the company suggested.
“Because of rising temperatures due to climate change, there are many environments on earth that are unable to support crops that once thrived in those regions,” FRB said in its announcement. “Learning how plants respond to novel environments — such as space — can help companies like Front Range Biosciences breed crops to thrive in locations where they have not performed successfully in the past.”