Controlled Environment Agriculture Cultures

NASA XROOTS Experiment Could Enhance CEA Plant Cultivation

NASA XROOTS Experiment
  • Current plant-growth systems use soil or growing media, and the eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) evaluates alternative approaches to reduce the overall system mass.
  • XROOTS uses hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to deliver and recover nutrient solutions for plant root growth and contains multiple independent root growth chambers to evaluate alternative methods and configurations.
  • Root zone and crop observation are recorded through video and still images.
  • XROOTS is mounted below Veggie in place of the existing baseplate.
  • Results provide insight into the development of larger-scale vegetable crop systems for space habitats.

A Space X Dragon resupply ship docked on the International Space Station with more than 5,800 pounds of science experiments and crew supplies delivered on Saturday inside the Dragon cargo craft. Among the experiments, the astronaut will conduct, the XROOTS experiment could pave the way to plant cultivation enhancement inside controlled environment agriculture facilities (CEA).

The eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) is a Technology Demonstration integrated with the Veggie hardware currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The XROOTS investigation grows plants in the microgravity environment of the ISS and evaluates nutrient delivery and recovery techniques such as aeroponics over the course of a full plant growth cycle, from germination to maturity. Multiple independent growth chambers are used in parallel to evaluate alternative methods and configurations.

XROOTS allows for the root zone and crop observation through video and still images, and short periods of crew observations. The existing baseplate in the Veggie unit is replaced with the XROOTS enclosure, and custom bellows replace the standard Veggie bellows. As a mid-deck locker equivalent (MLE) sized payload, XROOTS is mounted to the EXPRESS Rack below the Veggie lighting module. XROOTS uses power and data feeds from the EXPRESS rack as well as thermal conditioning.


Current space-based plant systems are small and use particulate media-based water and nutrient delivery systems. These systems do not scale well in a space environment due to mass, containment, maintenance, and sanitation issues. Hydroponic and aeroponic techniques could provide a vital alternative for plant systems of sufficient size to contribute to future space exploration.


Growth system components developed for this investigation could enhance cultivation of plants in terrestrial settings such as greenhouses, contributing to better food security for people on Earth.

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