Tupperware System for NASA Might Reduce Single-Use Plastic and Food Waste
Tupperware Brands has received a U.S. patent for its Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (PONDS). This does not mean that leftovers will soon be circling the globe in Tupperware’s famous containers, although there might be consumer applications in the future. Rather, PONDS is a device designed to grow vegetables in low Earth orbit with minimal maintenance.
“We are proud to have received a patent for the unique and novel design of PONDS,” said Miguel Fernandez, CEO of Tupperware Brands. “With this patent in hand and with the work of our teams on this project, we are now exploring ways to capitalize on the science behind this innovation and use that knowledge to enable customers around the world to reduce their impact of single-use plastic and food waste through the use of our environmentally responsible products.”
In 2015, a team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center led by Dr. Howard Levine began developing PONDS to expand the capabilities of NASA’s Vegetable Production System (Veggie) on the International Space Station so astronauts could grow larger, more complex plants and reduce the amount of time spent watering and maintaining the plants. Tupperware joined the project in 2017 to improve on a prototype PONDS design to create a passive way to deliver water and nutrients to plants in a low-gravity environment.
PONDS is the result of optimizing the technology for microgravity to create a zero-powered, passively maintained system to grow vegetables with increased water requirements in space. Tupperware said it took inspiration from the natural way plants absorb water through capillary action.
Astronauts insert a small water-filled syringe into the base of the system and then a combination of wettable materials, capillary action and interior geometry manage and distribute water to the seedling while establishing roots in nutrient-enhanced claylike material. The device is designed with water storage properties that ensure appropriate water flow to the plant without obstruction of vents during tank filling.
PONDS first launched into space on CRS-14, SpaceX’s 14th contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA on April 2, 2018. PONDS hardware returned to the space station on April 17, 2019 and the SpaceX CRS-20 launch on March 6, 2020. Tupperware and NASA are planning a fourth trip in 2021.