The Australian Research Council (ARC) has announced funding for a new Adelaide-based research centre for Excellence in Plants for Space (P4S) to develop nutritious food, on-demand supply of materials and medicines for the next generation of space explorers. 

Led by the University of Adelaide in partnership with Australian and international organisations and institutions, including Flinders University, the Centre will receive approximately $90 million in funding from a combination of the Australian government’s ARC Centre’s of Excellence fund of $35 million over a seven-year period, and additional cash and in-kind support from 38 P4S partners.

The University of Adelaide’s bid to the Australian Research Council was formally supported by the South Australian Government. In addition to the financial and in-kind support from the Australian Government and industry partners, the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plants for Space will receive $600,000 in South Australian Government funding over three years.

P4S is an Australian contribution to NASA’s Artemis Accords, an agreement between 21 countries (to date), and designed to facilitate a shared vision for civil space exploration, science and commercial activities for all humanity. The Accords aims to land the first person of colour and first woman on the moon by 2030 and establish return Mars ventures from Earth by the 2040s.

P4S will expand Australian leadership, collaboration, and capacity in space-inspired plant and food research and drive transformational benefits for on-Earth industries and sustainability outcomes.

The research centre will create new plant efficiency solutions for challenging Earth environments and develop intensive, sustainable production plant-based foods with potential to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint.

University of Adelaide’s Professor Matthew Gilliham, Director of the new Centre of Excellence, said the P4S research will create the flexible, plant-based solutions needed to support human physical and psychological well-being during deep space travel and settlement.

“The mission of P4S is to re-imagine plant design and bioresource production, through the lens of space, to enable off-Earth habitation and provide transformative solutions to improve on-Earth sustainability,” he said.

University of Adelaide’s Professor Anton Middelberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) added: “National and global interest around extra-terrestrial exploration presents an opportunity for P4S experts to build upon South Australia’s space leadership and Australia’s reputation in space research.”

“Integrated, globally connected, and transformative research programs will address gaps, drive sector co-ordination, build the workforce, and innovate with industry-ready solutions.”

Flinders University Professor and P4S Deputy Director and Processes program lead, Melissa de Zwart, said P4S will train more than 400 researchers and produce the next generation of internationally connected and industry-focused experts.

“P4S will accelerate the growth of the burgeoning national and international CEA and biomanufacturing industries”, she added.

Head of the Australian Space Agency, Mr Enrico Palermo, stated there are many challenges associated with ensuring humans can live sustainably on the Moon. He said “As humankind looks to return to the Moon, this time we do it with the view to establishing a sustainable presence that will allow us to explore further than ever before.

“P4S is just one way in which Australia can contribute to making this happen as part of our commitment to the Artemis Accords.”


Read more about the new research centre

Read the media release