A project to bring fresh bread to those working in space has teamed up with Leicester University.
German start-up Bake in Space – which has created an oven for use in space – now has a UK branch at DOCK Leicester, next to the National Space Centre and planned £75m Space Park.
The University of Leicester is working with Leicester City Council, Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) and the National Space Centre on the plans, which support government initiatives to get the UK more involved in space programs.
Bake in Space aims to bring fresh bread to astronauts – no easy feat as it involves development of dough suitable for baking in orbit, plus resultant bread that holds up in microgravity but still tastes and feels like bread.
Baked goods are problematic in space: free-floating crumbs can get inhaled, or float into electrical panels, causing technical issues.
Additionally, there is the question of safe storage, as spores from a mouldy loaf could prove fatal in a sealed spaceship environment. Lastly, no surface on board a spaceship can be greater than 40°C, and cleaning a hot oven in microgravity is fraught with complications.
Previous NASA experiments to tackle the issue included coating pre-cut bite-sized cubes of bread in gelatin to keep any crumbs contained.
Astronauts can spend anywhere from days to years drifting in space, isolated from humanity. Bake in Space believes freshly made bread will improve wellbeing.
“Besides a source for nutrition, fresh food evokes through all the senses of smell, touch and taste, memories of general happiness and home,” said Ryan Laird, UK national coordinator for the project and honorary graduate of Leicester University, in an interview with the Leicester Mercury.
Bake in Space is working with various businesses and institutions to integrate and test hardware and food samples.
According to its researchers, the hardest part of the process was developing dough with the correct texture. While bread that’s chewier and tougher doesn’t produce crumbs, it also doesn’t taste like bread as we know it.
Laird told the Leicester Mercury the prototype oven is one-tenth of the heat of a normal oven, with bread being baked for longer in space than it would be on earth. There is also the matter of how both bread and oven can cool in an area where hot air won’t dissipate.
“Instead it [the heat] would just sit there and would pose a danger for astronauts. Therefore there’s a whole cooling sequence that needs to take place before the door can even be opened,” he continued.
Following success with the space-oven prototype, Bake in Space is now working on a crumb-free bread mix.
It is also exploring the idea of developing a made-in-space sourdough brand based on yeast cultivated at the International Space Station.
“We’ve come up with an idea for a sourdough, but it’s currently more of a concept. It would be very interesting to have a sourdough in space because of the unique environment and the bacterial growth required for it to develop,” concluded Laird.
If the project is successful, the organisation plans to potentially sell space rolls in bakeries.