THE AUTOMATED MARTIAN PLANT GROWING DEVICE
ABOUT BOX FARM
Box Farm is a robotic plant growing device for feeding astronauts on future missions to extraterrestial bodies in Lunar-Martian habitats. Box Farm, later incorporated under Box Farm Labs LLC, was a senior capstone project conceived, proposed, and executed by myself and my friend turned colleague Preston L. Tran in our senior year at the University of Hawaii. The eleven (11) month performance period culminated in final testing at the NASA-funded Inflatable Lunar and Mars Habitat (ILMH) at the University of North Dakota on a week-long martian simulation mission, where we and the other two subsystem Leads Sean Agpaoa and James Thesken successfully transported, assembled, and demonstrated Box Farm's capabilities to the news media on Mission 7B as the first ever crew of four.
OPTIMAL PLANETARY ORBITAL ALIGNMENT
BETWEEN TO-LAUNCH PLANETARY ALIGNMENT
TOTAL MISSION DURATION
Due to the orbital arrangement of Mars in relation to Earth, efficient launches to and from the two planets are only possible every 26 months, meaning that astronauts could be out of physical contact with earth and plant based matter for over two years. Mars One estimates the cost of bringing the first four people to Mars is $6 billion.
The University of North Dakota (UND) Space Studies Program is one of the few facilities funded by NASA (since 2015) to test the effects of extended duration extraterrestrial mission have on the human body. These tests are carried out in the Inflatable Lunar Mars Habitat (ILMH), led by Principal Investigator Dr. Pablo de Leon, for missions ranging from 14-30 days. The program plans to extend these missions to 45-60 days.
The ILMH system consists of the following modules: Living Quarters, Geology Lab, ExtraVehicular Activities, Exercise and Human Performance, and the Greenhouse. Dr. Pablo de Leon, Principal Investigator at the University of North Dakota directing research in their Inflatable Lunar Mars Habitat (ILMH), cited that with current manual configuration of their greenhouse employed on their last four missions, "the crew spent up to 60% of the working day tending to the greenhouse".
For every next manned mission including hardware and operations, Mars One estimates the costs at $4 billion. Projecting this expenditure across the 26 month long mission duration, every hour each astronaut spends on Mars costs $77,543. This means that every week it costs $775,430 just to provide fresh produce at this rate.
PER HOUR TO GROW PLANTS ON MARS
OF TIME SPENT TENDING TO PLANTS
SYSTEM LEVEL CAD RENDER
CAD COMPONENTS MODELED
32 PLANTS AUTOMATICALLY
WATERED, TENDED TO, AND
INNOVATIONS AND KEY CHARACTERISTICS
1: MICROBIAL GROWTH PREVENTION
I designed the "flapparatus" in solidworks. The below illustrations show each plant cup in the inserted position and how the spring-loaded flaps deploy to seal the hole for each slot upon removal.
2: ROBOTIC ARM
To automate the process of tending to plants, the Box Farm team developed a robotic arm and a gantry system to traverse 3 throws vertically and horizontally spanning 2m, the width of the whole system. During the design and testing phase, the team developed 3 arm designs. Upon completing the R&D on the plant growth component of the project, I assisted the robotic subsystem in designing and modelling this component, and introducing the Box Farm Design style to various elements.
INITIAL CONCEPT SKETCH
270 Degree rotation
3 Points of Articulation
Integrated Box Farm logo in cooling intakes for stepper motors
Integrated cable management
3: AUTOMATION AND USER INTERFACE
To mitigate the day to day task of Martian crewman, Box Farm featured an extensive suite of automation capabilities: automated nutrient dosing, monitoring and pH balancing, imaging for harvest readiness alert and disease detection, and a robotic claw for plant transplatation from one one area of hydroponics to the other. To perform easy checkups and to monitor the system, Box Farm could collect data to be view from a mobile iPhone platform. I designed the User Interface of this app, including the icon suite, typography and overall User Experience.
SCREENSHOT OF PLANT MONITORING
USER INTERFACE PROTOTYPE
FINAL FUNCTIONING UI
COMPLETED AND ASSEMBLED SYSTEM
MISSION 7B TO THE INFLATABLE LUNAR-MARTIAN HABITAT
On May 18th, the Box Farm Mission 7b crew consisting of Sean Agpaoa, Gabor Paczolay, James Thesken, and Preston Tran, entered the habitat for a fully isolated 6 day mission. The Mission 7b crewmen, the first to wholly consists of non-UND personnel, were the first to occupy all the bunks in the habitat. The Box Farm system that was transported over 4,000 miles and assembled was the first automated system installed in a Lunar/Martian analog habitat. This mission proved the viability of packing the system into a small enough payload for future aerospace missions due to its modular configuration.
The crew unpacked and assembled the system in 16 hours. The following day was spent testing and fine tuning the system to UND ILMH Greenhouse's configuration and holding a media day for North Dakota's press.
While testing the Box Farm system, the crew had daily tasks of habitat maintenance and routine psychological evaluations. The crew had to prepare their own meals, which were stocked prior to the start of the mission. Due to the closed nature of the mission, the crew had to be resourceful and only had access to tools and supplies in the habitat to solve unanticipated difficulties.
"My first look at Box Farm is that it is excellent work, very well designed and mechanically very sound, using state-of-the-art technology in some cases... it's impressive that this was all put together in less than a year," said De Leon.
I'm not those people who believe that [the solution is either] robot or humans. There will be a collaboration between robotic systems and human systems."
"This is the future.
-Dr. Pablo De Leon,
Kennedy Space Center and ILMH Principal Investigator