Bees in space

Delta and Delft Integraal/Outlook often write about innovative ideas that offer big promises for the future. But what has happened to such ideas years later? What for instance has happened to the ‘bees in space’ project that looked into the possibility of using bees for food production in space?

Delta 19-04-2007‘Bees can contribute to food production on long space missions by pollinating flowers. But is a bee able to fly without gravity? Aerospace engineering student, Wouter van der Geur, is developing a method to test this.’ 

Wouter van der Geur graduated in August 2008, based on his design of a bee motion tracking instrument, which was part of the ‘Bees in Space’ programme. This programme researches the possibility of bees being able to fly and pollinate flowers in a microgravity environment. If successful, the bees could help supply food on long space missions to Mars, for example. In 2007, the plan was that by the end of 2012 bees would be sent to the ISS space station to show that they were able to land on an artificial flower and pollinate it under microgravity conditions. “Maybe 2012 is too soon”, says Van der Geur now, “but the project is still running and I’m pretty sure that the bees will travel to the ISS when everything is ready.”

Van der Geur designed the bee motion tracking instrument to monitor and analyze the individual flight trajectories of bees in a small bee habitat. The instrument is a digital imaging system, consisting of two high-resolution cameras that determine the 3D position of the bees. “It will be used to research how bees move in space”, Van der Geur explains. “The gravity on Mars is about one third of the gravity on Earth and the light circumstances also differ, which influences the bees.”During his graduation project, Van der Geur spent time at RMIT University in Australia, where most of the ‘Bees in Space’ research is conducted. One of the projects biggest problems was that it was still not clear which bee species would be chosen for the experiments. Van der Geur: “Large bees are easier to follow with cameras than small bees, but large-sized bee species only pollinate flowers when they live in large populations of tens of thousands bees, while small-sized species also pollinate when living in small groups.” The experiment at the ISS only has space for a population of fifteen bees, which means that the resolution of Van der Geur’s instrument must be high enough to detect small bees.

Meanwhile, a greenhouse has been constructed in Australian desert to simulate the Martian environment and conduct more than five hundred tests. “To research the bees’ behaviour, more than my motion tracking instrument is needed”, Van der Geur says. “At this moment students are designing artificial flowers and an inflatable bee habitat.” When everything is ready and tested the bees will travel in hibernation to the ISS to show exactly what they are capable of.

 De Common (officiële spelling C,mm,n) staat voor een nieuwe en open benadering van de auto als vervoermiddel. Een groot aantal mensen met verschillende achtergronden ontwerpt simultaan onderdelen van deze duurzame auto via internet.

Op de AutoRAI krijgen bezoekers de kans om deel te nemen aan het ontwerpproces. Hen zal gevraagd worden om ideeën te geven met betrekking tot navigatie, communicatie, materialen en ontwerp.

Op 11 april, de slotdag van de AutoRAI, presenteert het Common-team de binnengekomen ideeën aan het publiek.

Zie ook de C,mm,n website: