Introduction: JCN: Vector Equilibrium Food Computer Concept
We open with the trailer to the upcoming video "JCN and the Astronauts; an Epic Tale of Food and Fun in Outer Space".
What I took away from the project video conferences is that we are to focus on spatial concepts and to have FUN! I'm having a ball...
I'm approaching this effort with a rather non mechanistic engineered approach. I often make art works as adjunct to all of my projects and endeavors. A different tack often brings fresh ideas and inspiration. Bear with me here.
My hobby is gardening. I have been at it for some time. I'm also writing an original methodology of gardening called "fractal farming". But as an organic gardener, I have had to read far and wide to get my head around what might make a space garden grow. It's very different. Especially when you consider epigenetics.
I have two stated goals. First to get the weight down to a little as possible. Payload weight is everything. The project total weight is A: Light Cage, 1331 grams, B: Root Ball 48 grams, C: Water Column 256 grams, and D: Power 1500 grams. The total payload weight is just 3135 grams; almost half of it goes to the power supply! Otherwise I'm challenging myself to use as many methods and machines available to me in my maker space.
This is a professional level entry.
(2) BTF-Lighting WS2811 Addressable LED strip Ultra Bright 5050 SMD RGB 60 LED/m 20 Pixels/m 5 meter DC12V IP65 Silicone Coating Waterproof
(1) LightingWill 10-Pack V-Shape LED Aluminum Channel System 1 meter Anodized Black Corner Mount Extrusion. Cut to 24 lengths of 300 mm.
(2) BTF-Lighting DC12V 6A 72W Plastic Power Supply
(2) BTF-Lighting WS2811 DC5-12V 14keys Wireless RF Controller
(1) SmartDevil Small Personal USB Desk Fan
(1) Zerone USB Donuts Mini Mist Floating Humidifier
(1) Terrafibre Hemp Grow Mat 40 Pack 5"x5"
(1) Gorilla packing tape and double sized tape.
Step 1: 2D Spatial Concepts
The term "spatial concept" means something quite specific to an architect. This method of analysis guides the hand of a designer in the development of the conceptual phase. Often these invisible construction lines go unseen and yet they are there giving form to what could otherwise go unbounded. Natural forms too follow their own lines of force which belie the complexity we perceive.
Such methods are a good starting point.
Otherwise, the basic diagram places the water/nutrient source at the very center; contained in an airy "root ball". The lettuce plants grow outward and toward the regulated light.
Step 2: 3D Spatial Concepts
The 3D conceptual diagrams are likewise simple, direct and interconnected. Truncating the given cube establishes zones of served and serving spaces. The corner "bits" reserve areas for water storage, electronics, robotics, and sensors in future development.
The truncated cube is called a cuboctahedron. This Archimedean solid was Buckminster Fuller's favorite shape for many reasons. He even renamed it the Vector Equilibrium. Most valuable to this effort is the fact that the cuboctahedron perfectly contains the most densely packed instance of spheroids; 12 spheres most tightly pack around a central sphere. The 500x500x500mm boundaries of this assignment allows for a standard unit of 150mm to 175mm; which is perfect for our purposes.
The central sphere is an ideal that is not easy to print on a 3D printer. We can however use the imaginary planes that are tangent between each of the spheres to create a polyhedron called a rhombic dodecahedron, having 12 sides. This shape is possible to 3D print with a single wall thickness; particularly if one crenelates the surface.
Finally, truncating the rhombic dodecahedron forms a cube. And we are back to the start at another scale.
Step 3: Low Earth Orbit Irrigation Concept
Obviously, the center of the cube is a point of great significance. NASA often comments that water does not act like water in space. I would argue that water acts perfectly in space. Let's make sense and creatively use that fact in our favor. Inflating or deflating a water ball at the center point would be an easy thing to do. Inject it with nutrients as required. Insert a piezo ultrasonic humidifier/atomizer device at about 1.7 Mhz. This will atomize the surface of the water ball into micro droplets at about 3-5 microns which is ideal for root uptake. This works very well for lettuce which is a light feeder and needs less nutrients. Too much nutrient in solution can clog ultrasonic misters.
I got the idea to explore this watching a person vaping in a car ahead of me. The vapor completely filled the car cabin; every nook and cranny.
I see the water column as a stack of toroidal forms. A Dyson type fan, a brushless motor, a ball bearing pivot, and an ultrasonic mister.
Step 4: Terrestrial Irrigation Concept
The terrestrial concept for irrigation is pretty much the same as for space; except that it has to consider gravity of course. As such the water ball has to be contained. And the combined weight of the root ball, 12 plants, and the tower structure have to be designed for.
Step 5: Root Ball Concept
The root ball, being 3D printed in single wall PLA (vase mode), is extremely light weight! One does need to take care when opening the holes with a Dremmel as the compostable plastic is rather brittle. The plant substrate can be made from various materials. I will be trying hemp mats and 3M brand scrub pads. I will apply 3 or 4 dollops of agar and insert the lettuce seeds, point down, into the clear nutrient. The agar feeds the early seed, glues it to the pad, and holds it in place regardless of orientation. I hope it works!
The roots will grow into the pad and on into the root chamber. The roots will be promoted at first but soon enough I will use lighting protocols to encourage leaf development.
Step 6: Light Cage Concept
The light cage is a rather sensible device. It has 12 3D resin printed connectors. I call them tardigrades. There are also 24 identical aluminum 300mm LED corner channels as spars. These spars act structurally on Earth but they also provide a valuable heat sink for the LEDs.
Notice that the cuboctahedron can be seen as being composed of 4 hexagons. Use this fact when considering how to best install your LEDs. Think of it as a challenge. I used two 5 meter runs of ultrabrite dimmable programmable LED strips at 12V. I can make them do almost anything.
Note that where the spars "cross" is directly over each of the plants. The most light source is overhead. Lesser light provides light in from the sides.
Also note that the apex points of the root ball are the most open spots between the plants. This would be the ideal place to locate future micro fans as required.
Step 7: Light Cage Construction
It should be pretty obvious how to assemble the light cage. 24 spars and 12 corner connectors. Two of the connectors are printed with openings to direct the power supply is a sightly manner.
Also I do recommend building a travel case to act as a guide, support and protector. The case has internal dimensions of 500x500x500mm and is considered beyond the scope of the project. It is optional but I do think that it's a good idea.
When the design is finalized, I will glue it all together. The moment connections should hold. But for now the spars and connectors are held together by Gorilla packing tape. The stick tape on the back of the LEDs is useless. Strip it off. I'm using dabs of Gorilla double stick tape to hold the light strips in place.
Step 8: Support Elements
Here are photos of my fan and humidifier testing station and my workspace.
Step 9: Conclusions
I'm pretty much ready to start growing plants.
I will never be happy or finished with designing the grow box. It is intentionally designed to have parts removed, replaced, and modified.
There is still plenty of space for improvements. And for the addition of electronics, sensors, automation, and robotics. AI too.
My own research parallels this project nicely. This month I am launching an R&D firm focusing on architectural technologies, AG tech, laser mapping and projection, and deep space structures. I have concepts for a Venus high altitude probe and an autonomous "greenhouse" structure to be parked at Earth-Moon Lagrange point L5.
NASA permits fair use of their materials as long as the meatball logo is not used.