Our Project for 2019 FLL season

Growing Fresh Food in Space

Problem Identification:

The problem is the lack of fresh food in space for the astronauts. Missing fresh food for longer periods of time is affecting their mood. This is called food-mood connection.


Problem Analysis:

In the future, when astronauts will have to travel and stay a longer period of time in space, like going to Mars, they will need more food.  Astronauts will need to carry foods that have a three to five-year shelf life. They’ll also need to start growing their own foods. NASA has started doing research on this. Growing food lets the astronauts eat more fresh and healthier food and that could make them happier in space. Right now, astronauts eat freeze-dried foods and foods like baby food by squeezing it through a tube.
A 2009 study noted significant decreases in vitamins A, C and K as well as folic acid and thiamine can occur in as little as one year of storage. A mission to Mars could require food storage for as long as five years, thus a new source of these vitamins would be required.

Solution: Aeroponics

The team brainstormed many forms of Farming, like Hydroponics, Aeroponics, etc. After a thorough research & discussion, the team chose Aeroponics.

Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil. Instead, it uses liquid nutrients as a growing source. Plants grow faster under aeroponics conditions since the plant roots are exposed to more oxygen and they can easily absorb it.

How does it work?

Aeroponics grows plants which are suspended in a partly closed/fully enclosed system. Seeds are planted in pieces of foam. The foam helps the plant’s stem and root to stay in place, while it grows. Then, the foam with the plants in them is stuffed into tiny pots. The tiny pots are put in the plastic tubes. On one end of the tube, the nutrient-enhanced water is sprayed in the misting device (preferably at the bottom). On the other end, the plant is exposed to light (the top). Because you can’t get sunlight in space, you can substitute it with LED lights.


Advantages of Aeroponics

  • Uses considerably less energy.
  • Highly water-efficient.
  • As air acts as a medium to grow plants, considerably less. maintenance is needed.
  • Grows 3 times faster than traditional agriculture because of more oxygen in the aeroponics system.
  • Can grow large amounts of food in small spaces.
  • Aeroponics does not use any harsh chemicals.
  • It is kept free of pests and diseases.
  • Increases growth yield by 30%.
  • Additionally, provides valuable Oxygen in Space.

Our Prototype

We built a working prototype using materials purchased from local home store and online, like bucket, pump, tubes, misting nozzles etc. We planted some herbs and watched them grow. Then we thought about how to make one work in zero gravity.


 

 

Proposed Enhancements

  • Water filter to keep the water clean
  • To make sure the farm does not float away, you have to bolt it down in the space station.
  • Add air circulation with fan for even distribution of water mist.
  • Add suction to collect the excess water.
  • Add condenser to condensate the collected water mist.
  • Two sets of nozzles for ease of maintenance
  • Incorporate a circulation system to circulate the O2 generated from the aeroponics. This system will also bring exhaled CO2 from the crew’s area to the aeroponics farm.

Outreach & Share:

* Shared with Aero Developer’s during the site visit to their Aeroponic Farm
* Shared with NASA Solve – a one-stop-shop website for interested public to help NASA to solve tough problems
* Shared with Sharon Purdy, Research Scientist at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
* Shared with Boys Scouts
* Shared with other FLL teams and Junior FLL teams

 References:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/meals_ready_to_eat
https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/stem-on-station/ditl_eating
https://science.howstuffworks.com/space-farming.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroponics
https://www.towergarden.com/aeroponics


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