Plant Water Management in Microgravity
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The NASA Plant Water Management (PWM) technology demonstrations aboard ISS apply recent advances in microgravity capillary fluidics research towards the mundane yet problematic challenges of simply watering plants in space. Plant growth in a low-g environment is often hampered by inadequate aeration and over-saturation of the root zone. The present effort aims to exploit the passive capillary forces of poorly wetting liquids (i.e., contaminated water) within unique system geometries that effectively replace the role of gravity in providing sufficient aeration and hydration for simulated plants. Several ISS demonstrations are currently on orbit for experiments in late 2019 through 2020, including soil and hydroponic models in single and parallel channel networks. Supportive terrestrial and low-g drop tower tests are conducted to aid in experiment design via scale- and full-scale demonstrations. The test demonstrate proof-of-concept, limits of operation, system stability, and more. Applications are discussed in relation to plant growth facilities for both near-term microgravity plant science research and long duration human exploration missions.