Prototype of deployable closed-loop greenhouse produced by the 2014-2015 CU X-Hab Project Team.

Each year, NASA sponsors the Exploration Habit (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge, which challenges university students from around the country to develop technology necessary to execute deep space missions. As NASA explains on its website:

With the forward progress of NASA’s new Space Launch System and emphasis on future deep space missions, the breadth of technology required to successfully complete such long duration flights is inadequate. The challenges that exist – from producing food on the journey to effectively recycling breathable air to utilizing every last resource available – create opportunities for groundbreaking innovation. The X-Hab Challenge seeks to provide university students with the opportunity to be on the forefront of such innovation.

The goal of CU Boulder's X-Hab team was to create a closed-loop life support system that would allow plants to be grown autonomously (on the surface of Mars, for example) before the astronauts land, and requires minimal maintenance once they do. 

During the 2014-2015 academic year, the X-Hab team designed, built, and tested a prototype of a teleoperated, mini-deployable greenhouse that provided remote food production capability as a precursor to human planetary missions.

In 2015-2016, the X-Hab team worked to grow different types of crops in their prototype greenhouse to flush out any necessary design changes.

-Written By: Ari Sandberg, Intern