Tupperware Brands today announced the issuance of a U.S. patent for PONDS, 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, chief executive officer 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 consumers 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 (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System) to expand the capabilities of NASA’s Vegetable Production System (Veggie) on the International Space Station so astronauts could grow larger, more complex plants in Veggie, while also reducing the amount of time spent watering and maintaining the plants. Tupperware joined the project in 2017 to improve upon a prototype PONDS design by applying engineering and physical science knowledge to create a passive way to deliver water and nutrients to plant in a low gravity environment. Developed in partnership with Techshot, an in-space research and manufacturing company, PONDS is a result of optimizing the technology for microgravity to create a zero-powered, passively maintained system to grow vegetables with increased water requirements in space.
The patented design focuses on a unique creative scientific challenge—watering plants in the absence of gravity. As such, Tupperware took inspiration from the natural way plants absorb water through capillary action. The function requires astronauts to 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.
“This recognition is an emblem of the innovation that this brand has represented for nearly 75 years,” said David Kusuma, vice president of Product Development and R&D at Tupperware Brands. “We chose this project because we are confident we can use this understanding and technology for the future development of Tupperware products.”
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, under the Commercial Resupply Services contract. PONDS hardware returned to the space station on the Northrop Grumman CRS-11, launch on April 17, 2019, and the SpaceX CRS-20 launch on March 6, 2020. Tupperware and NASA are planning for a fourth trip in 2021.
Tupperware has won nearly 300 design awards from across the world, including awards from German Design Council, The Chicago Athenaeum and Industrie Forum Design and its original products have been featured in MoMA’s famed Good Design Exhibit. Last year, Tupperware received two honorable mentions from Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards for Design Company of the Year and Best Design in North America for the PONDS system.