NanoRacks-Algal Growth and Remediation (NanoRacks-AGAR ) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Future long-duration space missions could use algae, which produce food using sunlight and water, as a source of nutrition, oxygen and potentially biofuel. NanoRacks-Algal Growth and Remediation (NanoRacks-AGAR) tests a growth chamber full of Chlorella vulgaris, a type of freshwater algae, in a NanoRacks module. The investigation studies how to improve photosynthesis and growth conditions in microgravity.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Andy Wildenberg, DPhil, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-33

Principal Investigator(s)
Andy Wildenberg, DPhil, Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT, United States

Mark Osterlund, Ph.D., Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT, United States
Erin Burns, Rocky Mountain College, Larkspur, CO, United States
Ayla Grandpre, Rocky Mountain College, Laurel, MT, United States
Gereint Sis, Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT, United States
Kobi Hudson, Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT, United States

Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2016 - September 2016

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The remediation of carbon dioxide (CO2) to oxygen (O2) in plants in microgravity is not fully understood and algae have never been grown in agar in a microgravity environment. Growing plants in agar (which is semisolid) is preferable to liquids because liquids are difficult to manage in microgravity.
  • NanoRacks-Algal Growth and Remediation (NanoRacks-AGAR) compares the growth of algae in agar between microgravity and gravity environments. Parallel experiments indirectly measure how effective the algae in agar is at converting CO2 to O2.
  • An algae/agar based remediation system could decrease the amount of O2 that has to be transported or stored on the ISS or a long-term human mission.


The overall purpose of NanoRacks-Algal Growth and Remediation (NanoRacks-AGAR) is to demonstrate, in a microgravity environment, the ability to grow algae and remediate carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen (O2) and to overcome all of the impediments in this process. NanoRacks-AGAR overcomes the negative effects of liquid behavior in microgravity. Liquid can clump together and stick to the sides of the container it is in. The semi-solid agar media allows the algae to be suspended in the media but still gather the nutrients it needs. NanoRacks-AGAR monitors the total growth of algae embedded in semi-solid agar in microgravity. The algae chosen has a correlation between chloroplast number and cell count. The chloroplast number is represented in the “greenness” of the algae. This color change is used to measure growth because of the close correlation between the cell count and chloroplast number. NanoRacks-AGAR monitors the remediation of CO2 into O2 by the algae in microgravity. There are parallel ground experiments to match color change to actual remediation of CO2 into O2.
Algae are suspended in the semi-solid agar media inside of NanoRacks-Algal Growth and Remediation (NanoRacks-AGAR). Upon reaching the International Space Station (ISS) the NanoRacks Module containing the experiment is plugged in and the growth cycles begin. The experiment logs temperature and relative time of when it is started. The experiment then turns on the grow lights and lets them grow for 13 hours. At the end of the 13 hours it logs the temperature, the time and takes a picture to see what the beginning of the night cycle looks like. At the end of the 11 hours night cycle the temperature and time are logged. The camera then takes a white light picture, a red light picture, a green light picture, and a blue light picture. This cycle then repeats for the entire 30 days of the experiment. These data downlink weekly. The four different pictures are combined algorithmically to compensate for the automatic gain control and white balancing of the camera, allowing measurement of the color shift of the algae. Parallel ground experiments allow the measured color shift to be calibrated against growth and CO2 remediation of the algae.

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Space Applications
Future space missions will need to grow food and replenish oxygen by growing plants. Algae are small, water-based plants that are efficient oxygen producers, and could be used as a food source. Results from the investigation provide insight for using algae as food and oxygen sources on future long-duration missions.

Earth Applications
Algae can be used to produce biofuel, oxygen and even nutritious food for inhospitable regions on Earth, including deserts and the frozen poles. Results from NanoRacks-AGAR provide insight into growing algae in confined spaces with minimal resources, which could benefit algae production on Earth.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

The investigation requires no crew member observations or subjects to be completed but downlinks data every 24 hours.

There are no procedures required on orbit, except the maintenance of the power running to the experiment and weekly downlink of the experiment’s data.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites

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The bottom portion of the flight design for NanoRacks-AGAR. The grow lights and camera attached to the heat sink above the NESI microcontroller. Image courtesy of Melissa Holmes, Rocky Mountain College.

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A view of the algae containers from the bottom of NanoRacks-AGAR being illuminated by the white camera lights. Image courtesy of Melissa Holmes, Rocky Mountain College.

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