ExoLab is an experiment platform that brings together classrooms and the International Space Station in a collaborative investigation of the effects of microgravity on living things. ExoLab is designed with lesson sequence for 6th – 8th grade based on the NGSS. The International Space Station (ISS) is home to advanced microgravity research for academia and industry. Working with school districts across the United States along with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Magnitude.io seeks to provide an extraordinary exobiology experience mapped to accepted local science standards while dramatically reducing the cost to access experiments in space.

The experiments are initiated on the ISS in accordance with resupply missions. This allows for multiple experiments per year, giving options on when to align the classroom experiment with the ISS experiment. Students look for relationships between the environmental conditions, including the effect of microgravity on the growth of living things in general.

Effect of MicroGravity on Nitrogen Fixation

ExoLab 6  |  CRS-18  |  July 2019

Bacteria are critical in the support of nutrient uptake by plants, and ultimately, all life on Earth. If humans are going to explore other planets or spend extended time in interplanetary space, they are going to need a way of producing a sustainable food source.

In the first five ExoLab missions, we explored the effects of microgravity on the germination and seedling development of plants. Starting with Arabidopsis thaliana, and then most recently the microgreens amaranth, pak choi, purslane, and wasabi, we found the most difficult aspect of the environment onboard the International Space Station to be heat stress. However, we have established through these five missions that it is possible to grow food plants in microgravity. One must next consider how to sustain the food plants in space.

All plants require a significant amount of nitrogen to be able to synthesize amino acids. Since the Earth’s atmosphere is largely nitrogen, one might think that plants would have no problem acquiring the levels of nitrogen required. Unfortunately, for the plant, atmospheric nitrogen (N2) is not bioactive, and therefore unavailable for plant use. Enter the soil microbes that perform the role of nitrogen “fixation,” or converting atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. Two key species are responsible for nitrogen fixation: Azotobacter and Rhizobia. Azotobacter is free-living in the soil, while Rhizobia work in symbiosis with leguminous plants.

In our upcoming sixth ExoLab mission, we will be sending Azotobacter and Rhizobia to the ISS! How will these soil microflorae be affected by the conditions of the space environment?

We hope you and your students will join us on our next mission to find if we can support plant life long-term in space. ExoLab Mission 6 is scheduled to launch aboard SpaceX CRS-18 in July.

Flight Schedule

ExoLab #DateResupply MissionExperiment
1Feb 2017SpX-10Arabidopsis thaliana
2October 2017OA-8Arabidopsis thaliana
3April 2018SpX-14Arabidopsis thaliana
4July 2018SpX-15Amaranth, Chard, Mizuna, Purslane
5Dec 2018SpX-16 Amaranth, Pak Choy, Purslane, Wasabi
6July 2019SpX-18Rhizobium Legumin
7Feb 2020
NG-13 return on SpX-20
Rhizobium Inoculum
8August 2020SpX-21TBD
9January 2021SpX-22TBD

The dimensions of the ExoLab device both terrestrially and in-orbit are based on the common CubeSat specification, which standardizes satellite payloads in an approximate 10 cm cuboid format. ExoLab is in a 2U format, which means that its dimensions are 10 x 10 x 22 cm, approximately.

Within this compact frame are a series of sensors to capture, record, and report data, including images, as well as system to keep the test organisms alive. All of these operate autonomously and continuously.

  • Luminosity
  • Temperature
  • CO2
  • Humidity
  • Camera
  • WiFi

The International Space Station (ISS) is Earth’s largest artificial satellite. Larger than a football field and weighing more than 450 tons, the ISS is home to the only US National Laboratory not on Earth.

Plants in Space | Unit description: (5E Science Method)

The Plants in Space Unit introduces students to the science practices necessary to conduct rigorous investigations, with the goal of understanding the factors that affect plant growth on Earth and in space. Growing Arabidopsis plants in the ExoLab module provides an elegant way to collect comparable data in both settings, and the online environment students use gives them access to data organization, graphing, and analysis tools. Over the course of five lessons, students acquire the investigation skills and information they need answer the unit question: What do plants need to grow in space?

Learn more…

The Magnitude.io Classroom platform (LMS) is where the entire ExoLab experience comes together. Not only students and teachers log on to the platform to make their comparison observation with the International Space Station, they can also compare their plant data and images with students from around the US and other countries.

A Learning Management System (LMS) that captures the student progress, reports assessment and reduces workload for teachers for blended learning.

  • Lesson Library
  • Guided Lesson Interface
  • Quiz Tool
  • Data Visualization Tool
  • Online NotePad
  • Live Performance Dashboard
  • Observation Deck with ISS
  • Formative and Summative Assessment

Join us or need a demo, please complete the form…

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