Cotton boll and planet Earth

The ISS Cotton Sustainability Challenge

Cotton is an integral part of our daily lives. Many of the consumer products that we use today, from t-shirts, to jeans, to bed sheets, to coffee filters, are derived from cotton. It is estimated that more than 25 million tons of cotton are produced around the world each year.  While the economic and personal benefits of cotton are well understood, the environmental impacts of cotton production are significant. It is estimated that to produce one kilogram of cotton requires thousands of liters of water. Additionally, the intensive use of agricultural chemicals in cotton farming and production can have health impacts on workers and surrounding ecosystems. Organizations around the world are looking for new and innovative ways to address this critical issue over the next few decades.

The ISS Cotton Sustainability Challenge invite leading researchers in the fields of life sciences, physical sciences and remote sensing to propose new experiments on the ISS to address cotton sustainability.

The winning proposal(s) will receive up to one million dollars in funding and support to send their research to space. This includes travel expenses and exclusive behind the scenes access to NASA facilities during the build, testing and launch phases. On the space station, a variety of physical and biological phenomena can be tested in ways not possible on Earth. In addition, the remote sensing capabilities of the space station can provide a unique vantage point for looking back at earth, which can have novel agricultural applications. We invite you to be part of the new era of research in space.

Plant experiment on the ISS

What if
space research
could play a key role in addressing this global challenge?

Cotton boll

Challenge Scope

Researchers are encouraged to submit concepts focused on, but not limited to: fluid dynamics or fluid flow to improve seed germination and plant water use efficiency, testing of different cotton cultivars exposed to microgravity to monitor gene expression and water stress, and remote sensing applications to improve cotton production through crop monitoring.

Design an experiment, to be tested on ISS National Lab, leveraging the space and micro gravity environment to identify variables that make cotton growth more efficient and sustainable on Earth by reducing water dependencies and/or optimizing chemical use that can be applied to small scale farmers across the globe. Final results and potential benefits of this experiment will be published and considered public information.

Process and Timeline

  • September 5, 2017: Contest launches
  • September 19, 2017: Challenge Webinar: Kickoff
    Watch the Webinar Video
  • October 3, 2017: Challenge Webinar: Plant & Water (Life Sciences & Physical Sciences / Materials)
  • October 12, 2017: Challenge Webinar: Remote Sensing & Earth Observation
  • November 8, 2017: One Pagers / Project Summaries Due
  • December 1, 2017: Down Select Announcement
  • February 1, 2018: Full Proposal Due
  • March 9, 2018: Finalists Announcement
  • March 30, 2018 – April 15, 2018: Pitch Competition
  • April 23, 2018: Earth Day – Winner(s) Announced

Cotton boll

1. Download the Project Summary Form

Project Summaries are due by November 8, 2017 and must be submitted via the online form below.
Download the Entry Form

2. Submit Your Entry Form

If you have additional questions or need help, contact us at

How to get started in the ISS Cotton Sustainability Challenge

The first stage in the ISS Cotton Sustainability Challenge submission process is to provide a clear one-page summary of your project. Your project summary will be competitively reviewed by an expert panel to determine if the project qualifies for a full project proposal submission. If selected, a team of ISS experts will work with you to complete your proposal to optimize your project and satisfy the unique operational conditions of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.

Scientific Research Areas

Life Sciences
Earth benefits from spaceflight R&D span the biomedical, biotechnology, and agricultural industries. Learn more
Physical Sciences
In the absence of gravity, scientists can do experiments in the physical sciences that are difficult or even impossible on the ground. Learn more
Remote Sensing
The ISS provides a unique vantage point for observations of Earth and space. Learn more