A Sarasota-based business is partnering with NASA to grow flowering vegetables and greens on the International Space Station. By using a silica clay medium like that on Mars, the project could facilitate future plant life on the red planet.
“We’re not going to ship rockets full of Earth soil to Mars,” points out Ed Rosenthal, founder of Florikan. “There had to be a way that we could experiment to see what we could grow on Mars. That’s how they’re going to be able to grow on Mars, with that same media.”
Florikan has developed Florikan 0-0-19 for the flowering plants, and Florikan Nutricote 18-6-8 for greens. The latest, with its higher levels of potassium, now has been used with Española Improved NuMex chili peppers
“What we perfect in space, we end up spinning off and kicking to commercial agriculture,” says Rosenthal, a certified space tech educator who gives back to the community by lecturing at schools upon request.
has been a pioneer in the fertilizer business. With its Staged Nutrient Release fertilizer, Florikan earned a National Society of Professional Engineers award and won 40 hours of free consulting with a government agency. It chose NASA and went on to become a NASA spinoff
, collaborating on how to help ensure astronauts get their veggies.
A 2017 Space Technology Hall of Fame winner, Rosenthal tapped into NASA’s expertise through Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, or SATOP, in 2005. Today Rosenthal also is working with NASA, as one of the founders of the non-profit Perseverance Water Gardening, on efforts to commercialize ammonia re-capture. The technology is relevant to astronauts who drink purified urine and to those involved with wastewater treatment.
NASA has broadened access
With more than 1,500 patents available for licensing in its portfolio
, NASA has made it easier for people to utilize its expertise through partnerships. In the last year, NASA has grown its Technology Transfer University, or T2U program, by 330 percent, says Joni Richards, a customer technology manager with NASA for the Kennedy Space Center.
And for the first time, the T2U program
includes a community college – Hillsborough Community College, which plans to make patents more available to the public at large.
NASA also has added the University of South Florida.
“HCC as a community college is really trying to carve out a spirit of innovation. We’re really excited about that partnership,” says Andy Gold, an assistant professor of Entrepreneurship and Management at HCC.
Gold also is co-founder of HCC InLab
, a centralized hub for innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, and social ventures.
The community college has plans to roll out availability to the community at large through a patent-thon for National Entrepreneurship Week
February 12-19 2022, and to help broaden accessibility to community colleges nationwide through an alliance with National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
“The idea is we pilot the NASA partnership for a year,” Gold says, then pass its work to the NACCE.
USF began offering entrepreneurship students an opportunity to analyze NASA patents for business use in the beginning of 2021, as the space organization digitized the T2U program to make it more accessible to students
in light of COVID.
The USF course, called Strategic Market Assessment, is targeted towards master of science degree seekers with majors such as entrepreneurship or information systems.
“I think NASA is super willing to license out these patents,” says Lin Jiang, assistant professor in entrepreneurship for USF’s Muma College of Business, who teaches the class.
NASA is waiving initial fees, which gives students an opportunity to explore the prospects for three years before buying a $3,000 commercial license, Richards says.
What's happening at HCC
HCC targets the non-traditional student who may be interested in small business and entrepreneurship, Gold says. Through the T2U program, it now provides access to NASA patents that otherwise would not be available.
“If you’re not a partner ... and you start to use one of their patents, you can get into a lot of trouble,” he notes.
Interested students can take Creativity, Innovation, and Human Centered Design, where they explore the United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s
), select a global challenge, review the NASA patent portfolio and chose a patent that can be used to address it, Gold says.
Students can chose a problem like hunger and find a food production patent that relates to it, for example.
Another related class is Introduction to Entrepreneurship.
Alternatively, individuals can come to a related event or visit the InLab to find out how they can participate, Gold says.
What's happening at USF
USF’s elective Strategic Market Assessment class wasn’t new. Previously taught by Michael Fountain, founding director of the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship
, the class just didn’t involve NASA until this year.
“The tradition of this class was to teach students how to analyze and evaluate early stage technologies, especially those from the university,” Jiang explains. “The goal was to find the commercial values of those patents, so more university inventions can go to the market.”
In the class, students form teams composed of those with different backgrounds like business, engineering and medical science. The teams study the market potential of a chosen technology, looking at potential commercialization and timing.
So far, USF students have chosen to evaluate potential NASA patent opportunities in the areas of wastewater treatment, automating plant irrigation in space, identifying products (or rocket parts) through radio frequencies, automatically repairing cracks in metal, and more.
Other ways to connect with government technologies
It was SOFWERX, a platform accelerating collaboration, ideation and rapid prototyping, that got HCC and NASA together.
“The main mission of SOFWERX is to ultimately help the warfighter,” says Tricia Maloney, SOFWERX’s marketing manager. “SOFWERX is a platform that helps solve challenging warfighter problems.”
works with the United States Special Operations Command or SOCOM. It offers the general public an opportunity to engage with the government through programs like Tech Tuesday, when those with ideas to share may be chosen to offer a 30-minute pitch.
SOFWERX operates under the parent organization DEFENSEWERX
, a Niceville, FL-based organization promoting knowledge sharing to further develop and commercialize technologies. Through related organizations, people can interact with the Vicksburg, MS-based ERDCWERX
, which gives the public an opportunity to explore patents available for licensing through the U.S. Army ; and the Montgomery, AL-based MGMWERX
, which works with Air Force technologies.