Testing New Concepts for Crop Cultivation in Space: Effects of Rooting Volume and Nitrogen Availability

Life (Basel). 2018 Oct 6;8(4):45. doi: 10.3390/life8040045.


Long term human missions to the Moon and Mars, rely on life support systems for food production and regeneration of resources. In the EU H2020 TIME SCALE-project, an advanced life support system concept was developed to facilitate plant research and technology demonstration under different gravity conditions. Ground experiments assessed irrigation systems and effects of rooting- and nutrient solution volume. The maximal allowed volume for existing International Space Station research facilities (3.4 L) was able to support cultivation of two lettuce heads for at least 24 days. A smaller rooting volume (0.6 L) increased root biomass after 24 days, but induced a 5% reduction in total biomass at day 35. Regulating effects of nitrate supply on plant water fluxes in light and dark were also investigated. At low concentrations of nitrate in the nutrient solution, both transpiration and stomatal conductance increased rapidly with increasing nitrate concentration. During day-time this increase levelled off at high concentrations, while during nigh-time there was a distinct decline at supra optimal concentrations. Plants supplied with nitrate concentrations as low as 1.25 mM did not show visible signs of nutrient stress or growth reduction. These findings hold promise for both reducing the environmental impact of terrestrial horticulture and avoiding nutrient stress in small scale closed cultivation systems for space.

Keywords: conductivity; gas exchange; greenhouse; human space flight; hydroponics; lettuce; life support; transpiration.