Plant Space Research Update

Credit: NASA. CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques during Veg-04 Water Check and Mass Measurement Device Operations.

Creating a renewable food source in space is essential for a sustainable human presence in space. Plants will likely be an important component of such a sustainable space life support ecosystem for the same reasons they are valuable on Earth. Plants provide both a food source and aesthetic value on Earth. They are also a valuable source of raw materials for products, such as cotton for clothing. In space, they provide the added benefits of recycling exhaled carbon dioxide as well as offering the ability to recycle other human waste. There is also the hope that growing plants in thematic environments of space will lead to new botanical discoveries that will be beneficial to Earth agriculture.

For over fifty years, scientists have been researching whether plants can grow in space and how they react to the space environment. That effort continues. This article will identify and discuss recent space research and its significance.

Plant research must occur in a suitable place in space. That space must be capable of providing a suitable pressure and temperature, radiation protection, and communications capabilities. Although it is possible to construct such an environment in a standalone satellite, locating plant experiments in a location that already possesses those characteristics, such as space stations, tends to be much more convenient. There are presently two such stations: the International Space Station (ISS) and the Chinese Tiangong space station. Most contemporary plant research in space is conducted in these two locations. There are two recent exceptions. First was the Chinese Chang’e 4 lunar spacecraft (2018–2019) on which cotton plants were grown for a short time. The other was the European Eu:CROPIS satellite (2018–2019) which made it to space, but then experienced a malfunction.

This article focuses on research conducted on the ISS. There are currently two chief facilities for plant experiments there. The Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) is suitable for more rigorous plant experiments that require considerable environmental control and sensing. The VEGGIE chamber is suitable for a range of experiments, and is especially well suited for growing. There are sometimes other facilities which will be covered in a future story.

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Decadal Study Unveils Life Support & Science Priorities

Survey cover

Credit NAS.

Every ten years, the National Academy of Sciences conducts a study of particular areas of space research and makes findings and recommendations. The latest version of Thriving in Space: Ensuring the Future of Biological and Physical Sciences Research: A Decadal Survey for 2023-2032 (2023), hereinafter referred to was the Survey. is being unveiled. While the final version is not yet out, Sustainspace has viewed a substantial-finished preprint and presents several important part of the report related to space life support, plant research, and sustainability.

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Space Housing Market Update

On Sept. 27, 2023, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio broke the record for consecutive days in space, completing a single mission aboard the International Space Station of 371 days, which conclusively proves that astronauts can live in space for over a year and suggests that astronauts can survive in space much longer. (Russian cosmonaut Valery Ryumin also logged 371 days in space, but broken over four missions).

It’s an exciting milestone towards longterm human endurance and sustainability in space. Do you want to live in space in the near future? Here is an updated list of the prospective locations.

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A New Era of Private Space Stations


For the past several years, there has been much hullabaloo regarding proposed private space stations. Yet several current proposals seem much more substantive than chiefly aspirational proposals in the past. That the International Space Station (ISS) has less than one decade of expected life remaining has accelerated both investment as well as government interest and funding. Reduced launch costs provide a further foundation for  the tangibility of such proposals.

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STEM Growth Chamber Project

Arduino and battery atop a cube containing plants

STEM Plant Cube version 1.0


The known Universe is 92 billion lightyears in size. Yet, ironically, volume available for plant experiments in space is often limited to mere centimeters. This presents a challenge for growing plants in space for food, research and other purposes.

Consequently, inspired by the cube sat movement, SustainSpace has been developing a suite of 1U–2U cube form plant growth chambers involving minimal volume and mass. Ultimately intended for space research, SustainSpace is also developing an inexpensive STEM version for educational use on Earth, using “off-the-shelf” components.

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A New Frontier In Life Support with the I-HAB

Cylinder module with solar cell wings

I-HAB module (Credit: ESA)

I-HAB, a seldom-discussed component of the Lunar Gateway, could have an out-sized impact on the advancement of life support systems. This module is chiefly devoted to human habitation and life support. It is being developed primarily under the auspices of the European Space Agency who has devoted significant resources towards the development of closed-loop life support. Therefore, discussion of this module deserves to be revisited.

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