Desert Test Beds For Lunar Terraforming

Using Earth observation and weather data, Blue Horizon will determine the sites most appropriate for spreading the algae-bacteria (Photo © Blue Horizon)

In 2022, Blue Horizon will deploy its first Green Earth mix for fighting desertification. Managing director and space entrepreneur Jochen Harms explains how the project takes him back to planet Earth.

Jochen Harms insists he is “not a space man”. While he has worked extensively with space firms OHB and LuxSpace since 2003, he is a geographer by training. “At university we studied tonnes of ways to fight against desertification and all of these approaches failed or had worsening impacts,” he says.

The 2018 launch of Blue Horizon, a bio engineering firm focused on environment, life support and medicine, gave him a second shot at tackling one of the biggest challenges facing planet Earth. “We have about 4-6 million square kilometres of desert on earth. Each year, there’s a loss of 70,000 square kilometres of agricultural land,” the entrepreneur explains.

Blue Horizon’s Green Earth projects aims to reverse soil erosion and increase soil fertility on former agricultural land using its algae-bacteria mix. Tests on soils from Burkina Faso suggest that within months of being deployed, the land will be able to store CO2, and within years could sustain agricultural activities again.

In 2022, the mix will be showcased on a 200-square-metre plot owned by an NGO in the West African state. In a second phase, it will be spread over an area spanning a square kilometre. And in 2022 work will begin to find partners and facilities where the mix can be prepared for the second phase.

“If ESA is happy, we will go for an implementation project which means we will develop the space machinery to grow and print the material”

Jochen Harms

“By 2025, we want to have one square kilometre per continent to showcase but also because we assume we will need adaptations of the mix, depending on the region.” Using Earth observation and weather data, Blue Horizon will determine the sites most appropriate for spreading the mix. The work, which is being partly funded by research grants and a private investor, is expected to generate revenue through the sale of CO2 certificates.

Despite the ready availability of deserted land, it comes with challenges—namely respecting the international protocols on the use of live organisms. Green Earth has downstream implications for enclosed terraforming in space. “We need to establish a fertile basis,” says Harms. “It is much easier to bring up a bunch of algae and bacteria which do not have any weight, from the earth to the moon, put some nitrate on it and spread it on the regolith or mars soil.”

2022, will also be a busy year for Blue Horizon’s other two streams. It will continue testing its algae-based 3D printing filament for the ESA. “If ESA is happy, we will go for an implementation project which means we will develop the space machinery to grow and print the material,” says Harms. Meanwhile, Blue Horizon is developing a payload that can work under zero gravity conditions for the 3D growth and monitoring of organoids such as cancer. “Research spending in big companies is growing right now,” Harms says. “It’s just a question of is this better or cheaper than the way they’re doing it right now?”

It is an exciting time for Blue Horizon, which Harms expects will transform over the next 12 months from a micro-company to a team 10-15 people.

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