Agronautics Workshop Gathers Expertise from Space to Soil

The “Agronautics” workshop, held at Wageningen on April 22, brought together stakeholders from the space and agrifood sectors to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and technology. Organised in collaboration between the ESA Technology Broker NL, agrifood accelerator StartLife, and OnePlanet Research Centre, the event showcased space-inspired innovations aimed at advancing farming practices on Earth.

Space Farming

Insights into the wonderful world of space farming captivated the audience in the morning session. In order to ensure the long-term viability of settlements on celestial bodies like the Moon or Mars, humanity needs to master the art of cultivating crops in extraterrestrial environments. The B.A.S.E. initiative aims to establish a circular agricultural ecosystem, addressing several complex challenges in space. These challenges include adapting plant growth to lower gravity and airless environments, mitigating the effects of prolonged lunar nights, optimising soil fertility, and shielding against cosmic radiation.

To achieve this, a closed research facility in the form of a dome will be developed. Remarkably, this dome won’t solely rely on plants; bees will aid in pollination, while worm hotels will facilitate organic matter composting. Mealworms, in particular, emerge as vital contributors to the circular food system, not only reducing waste but also providing essential amino acids crucial for human health.

The implications of space farming offer potential applications on Earth as well, such as sustainable crop cultivation in arid regions like deserts. Looking forward, the WUR Rethink Food challenge aims to leverage insights from space farming research to innovate terrestrial agriculture. The initiative seeks to inspire participants through a four-month trajectory spanning from January to May 2025. The programme ignites global student enthusiasm for food production on Earth, Moon, and Mars. It provides a space where interested students, companies and researchers meet and innovative ideas flourish.

The symbiosis between farming practices on Earth and in space operates in both directions. This entails not only the adaptation of space technology for new terrestrial applications but also the reverse – where terrestrial innovations find application in space. With this notion in mind, several decontamination and sanitation technologies designed to enhance biosafety in farms and the food industry, developed by the HE-FARM consortium, were showcased. Among these innovations a solution to counteract aerosols and airborne microparticles, preventing the spread of hazardous pathogens.

Space food

Transitioning from the celestial fields of space farming, the workshop delved into a more tangible realm – what should we eat during space missions? Spacefood, a German startup making dry fruits & vegetables for space missions and ideal for everyday health, began this journey with a simple question. Why not enjoy our favorite foods, even when far from home? But the reality of space presents some obstacles. Every crumb, every drop of sauce, poses a potential hazard in the microgravity environment. Therefore, the company focuses on dried fruits, packaged in sustainable materials, offering a taste of familiarity without the mess. It is a small, yet significant step towards providing astronauts with nutritious and enjoyable meals that won’t compromise their safety or the efficiency of their missions.

Staying on the food topic, MAG SOAR then demonstrated the potential impact of space technology in everyday life. This Spanish company specialises in contactless mechanical systems for the aerospace industry. One of their projects, HERMAT, focuses on developing a high-speed, contact-less, and oil-free magnetic gear for use in atomisers. Magnetic gears, being oil and lubricant-free, reduce the risks of contamination, making them suitable for various sectors, including dairy, food, pharmaceutical, chemical, pigment, and environmental industries. Powder production from liquid, slurry, or suspensions is a critical process in these sectors, demanding quality, safety, product sterilisation, purity, and lack of contamination. Centrifugal atomisers are currently the only technology capable of handling liquids of different viscosity and density while selecting powder properties. HERMAT seeks to offer an innovative solution to meet these demanding requirements, potentially revolutionising various industrial processes.

From waste to taste

MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) stands as a European project dedicated to developing circular life support systems for producing food, water, and oxygen from mission wastes. Its space technology portfolio, encompassing bio-based economy, circular technology, sustainability, cleantech, and life sciences, is overseen by its technology transfer partner, SEMiLLA IPStar. Among the sanitation solutions unveiled during the workshop was the “Pee to Tea” concept. Leveraging the same water treatment system used aboard the International Space Station, this concept transforms urine into potable water. This technology offers cost-effective solutions for processing human waste and generating water and nutrients. The sanitation unit, comprising toilets and washing facilities, converts yellow, grey, and black water into clean water and nutrients. The aim is to scale up sanitation systems converting waste into drinking water for entire communities. The concept has been piloted in a refugee camp in Rwanda, and has also demonstrated effectiveness in settings like festivals and football stadiums.

Energy farming

As the EU aims for climate neutrality by 2050, transitioning to renewable energy sources is essential. Metalot introduces the space-inspired concept of iron powder as circular energy carrier. Iron powder offers a more compact alternative to hydrogen and boasts cost competitiveness due to its circular nature.

In the Netherlands, the agricultural sector faces a nitrogen crisis, with farmers being major emitters. With iron powder as a renewable energy source, Metalot presents farmers the opportunity to become energy producers as well as food providers. Metalot envisions a future where farmers contribute not only to food production but also to energy generation, offering a sustainable solution to the nitrogen crisis while empowering agricultural communities.

CO2 poses another significant challenge in our society, contributing to climate change. In fact, reducing emissions alone will be insufficient. Capturing CO2 from the air is also imperative. Skytree offers technologies to address this issue, capturing CO2 from the air and storing it for future use. The technology behind this initiative originates from the air filtration systems aboard the International Space Station, where CO2 is recycled into oxygen, ensuring astronauts have breathable air.

This capability turns out to be particularly beneficial for greenhouse farmers who utilise CO2 to enhance crop growth. By providing a steady supply of CO2 without price fluctuations, Skytree’s solution mitigates the risks associated with sourcing CO2 from external suppliers. Currently, greenhouse farmers face uncertainties related to CO2 shortages and price fluctuations, often influenced by changes in fossil fuel prices. Skytree’s integrated solution for on-site CO2 capture, storage, and supply alleviates these concerns.

Smart farming

OnePlanet Research Center, a collaborative effort between Wageningen University & Research (WUR), Radboud University, Radboudumc, and imec, concluded the day by presenting initiatives in precision agriculture. Advancements in sensing technologies and digital applications enable growers to farm efficiently and sustainably, monitoring crop health while minimising the use of chemicals and reducing environmental impact.

To complement remote sensing data, Aardvark Sensing showcased its soil-sensing robot. Traditional soil sampling methods are costly, logistically challenging, and limited by human constraints. Aardvark offers a solution with its autonomous robot equipped with satellite navigation, providing high-resolution sensor data at scale. The robots enhance soil monitoring capabilities, surpassing the limitations of manual sampling and offering real-time insights into soil health and composition.

The 3D-printed Aardvark robot boasts several advantages. It is cost-effective, autonomous, capable of performing repetitive experiments, operational in any weather condition, and equipped with its own charging station. With precision positioning accuracy of 1cm and automatic cloud synchronisation, it is employed for generating high-resolution soil moisture maps, detecting early signs of dike erosion, and identifying plant biodiversity. Furthermore, its adaptable payload carrier allows seamless integration of a wide range of sensors, catering to diverse agricultural needs. Find out more about Aardvark’s journey at ESA BIC Noordwijk.


Wrapping up the Agronautics workshop, one clear takeaway emerges: the principle of ‘no waste’ in space inspires a focus on regenerative systems and circularity. Throughout the presentations and examples showcased, we have seen how space research and technology can directly contribute to sustainability efforts here on Earth. From energy solutions to filtration systems, and from food production to preservation, the workshop highlighted practical applications of space-inspired innovations for a greener future. Through collaboration and ingenuity, we are not just exploring space, we are also paving the way to transition to a more eco-friendly way of living.

Celestial haute cuisine: Bringing space technology down to Earth

Read more about space solutions for the agrifood industry here.

Have a look at the technologies page and find out how you can collaborate.


Join the community

Sign up for our monthly Community Updates to stay updated on everything that happens at and around NL Space Campus. Upcoming events, the latest news in space and more: don't miss out!