Project GNOME - Micro Growing Box

Introduction: Project GNOME - Micro Growing Box

Hello everyone!

I want to start by thanking you for taking the time to view my submitial for the Growing in Space contest! This is my very first published Instructable and I have to say it was a boat load of fun. When I first saw this contest a few months back, I honestly did not think I was going to be able to learn the skills it takes to put my ideas on paper to really show what I wanted to do. However, here we are.

Additionally I would like to say that the text within each picture presented can differ from what is discussed in the text I write below it. Most of the photos go in depth, some are purely dimension and annotation based. To fully understand the GNOME Box, please download the entire presentation and open it in a larger format.

Project GNOME is a micro-growery that is completely self sustaining once active. From nutrients, water, lighting and grow cycles all being automated. Which gives the end user almost no work during set up or life cycle of plant. There were many challenges that I had to address during the period of creation. The largest challenge that eventually became a strength was of course gravity. Gravity changes the way plants get water, sprout and grow. The way I over came this was to introduce a closed loop water and nutrient pump into the paneling of the doors. Allowing water to be pumped around the full grow space of the Growing Pod used within the GNOME Box. Also a series of mesh drainage netting is used throughout the growing pod to allow the plant to anchor itself to areas that water will be pumped into.

I apologize in advance for how long this design concept guide is. However, there are many points in which need to be called out to full understand the concept and all of the working parts of the GNOME Box.


  • GNOME Box Framing Components and Growing Pod - 2xxx Aluminum Alloy
    • The reason we chose 2xxx Aluminum Alloy is due to the fact that they have a lower atmospheric corrosion rate than other graded alloys within the same category. Besides this, this alloy retains its strength, while still being light enough to be added cargo on board a space craft.
  • GNOME BOX Glass Paneling - Fiberglass
    • Fiberglass is relatively strong but can be bent around large diameter curves. It has a low amount of expansion and contraction with varying temperatures. Fiberglass is great for diffusing light which increases photosynthesis in a greenhouse
    • .375 inches of fiberglass bat insulation R = 2.3
  • Sensors and Monitors:
    • 148 CO2
    • 152 Humidity
    • 148 pH
    • 148 General Nutrient arduino based sensors.
  • Internal Lighting Frame - Aluminum Alloy 1050A
    • Aluminium alloy 1050A has one of the higher thermal conductivity values at 229 W/m•K but is mechanically soft.
  • Internal Lighting Bulbs
    • We use a series of 864 10mm bulbs that can range spectrum from 300-840
  • GNOME Box Growing Pods
    • Frame - 2xxx Aluminum Alloy coated with a hydrophobic spray.
    • Internal netting consists of drainage netting that will absorb any extra water that makes its way around the pod incorrectly.
    • Substrate/Soil - A mixture of different Super Soils that control the nutrients of a plants life without having to add additional nutrients.
  • Internal Water Storage Tanks
    • Frame - 2xxx Aluminum Alloy coated with a hydrophobic spray to prevent natural corrosion of aluminum.
  • 500mah Lithium Ion Batteries
    • As you will see later in the presentation the number of lithium batteries can change depending on how much power you would like a single door panel to handle.
  • Step 1: Design Challenges - GNOME Box

    I have grown in gardens for many years semi-successfully, however, not without some trial and error. Growing in space, on the other hand, I really had no idea what kind challenges this may present. As it turns out, the main challenges were gravity, compactness, and having a system that requires no maintenance during the growing cycles.

    This was my starting point.


    • Design a system that enhances the abilities to grow in an environment with less gravity
    • Create a system of water and nutrient dispersal
    • Design a compact growing space that fits within the design requirements of 500mmX500mmX500mm
    • Create a system that requires little to no maintenance, once set up
    • Design a system that requires little to no training to use

    With these things in mind the GNOME Box was created and named according.

    Step 2: GNOME Box Concept Design

    After laying out our challenges the design concept began.

    I had probably 20 ideas that I wanted to put on to paper. However, after really sketching out my first design I came into more problems than I had designs. The main issue I had during the initial phase of the design was that I did not want the end user to have 100 different pieces that needed to be set up.

    Most of my designs were scrapped completely. Though slowly I found different pieces of each design that really stuck out to me and I implemented them within my final design.

    You can see here a few of my sketches along with a few of my digital sketches.

    Step 3: Design Specs - GNOME Box

    Design Specifications:

    • 20 Separate Grow Spaces OR 10 Larger Growing Spaces.
      • Larger growing space doors have also been designed. Lessening the number of separate growing spaces to 10. However, these areas provide more than twice the growing space.
    • Internal lighting cycles controlled with arduinos.
    • Internal water and nutrient storage. As well as a closed looped pumping system to dispense the water and nutrients.
      • These tanks are sent to space pre-filled with water and nutrients. Additional can be added with a pump in space if needed.
    • Includes a CO2 and oxygen transfer system between pods that creates a more natural like environment for the plants during stages of growth.

    Step 4: Construction - GNOME Box

    *The Image above does not display actual material used. Material was altered for these sheets due to making it easier to understand.

    The construction of the GNOME Box once in space has to be generally simple, and preferably quick. To cover both of those, I have implemented neodymium magnets to each side of the box for quick "snap together" construction. Even our internal lighting is connected with these magnets. Neodymium magnets are a generally weak conductor of electricity. For that reason the lights will receive signals from the door panel, however, the rechargeable batteries will be within the frame of the lighting structure.

    Step 5: External View of GNOME Box

    *The Image above does not display actual material used. Material was altered for these sheets due to making it easier to understand.

    Please see annotations on image above for dimensions.

    Stylistically the GNOME Box is very basic. Fitting to the contest guide line specifications.

    Our GNOME panel handles collapse into the panel it self.

    Step 6: External Panel View - GNOME Box

    *The Image above does not display actual material used. Material was altered for these sheets due to making it easier to understand.

    The framing panels of the GNOME box are very simple from an outside perspective of them. However, as you can see on the cross section above, internally they are a little bit more packed than they appear.

    Step 7: Internal Construction - GNOME Box

    *The Image above does not display actual material used. Material was altered for these sheets due to making it easier to understand.

    Internally the GNOME Box is packed to the brim with arduino boards, batteries, pumps, and tanks. Please see image of above for further annotations of objects shown.

    Arduino Boards:

    • Used for the closed loop pumping system.
    • Used to control CO2 and oxygen levels within the pods during growing.
    • Used to control humidity within the pod.
    • Used to control the overall system health of batteries, pumps and tanks.


    • On the inside of each pod internal wall 500mah rechargeable batteries can line the walls. A total of 24 500mah batteries in a single layer. Up to 3 layers of these batteries will fit width wise within the panel. Giving a total of 72 500mah batteries per panel.


    • We use a pump to fill the internal water/storage tanks of the panels.
    • A secondary pump will also be used to pull water from the inside of the storage to deliver to the plant pods.


    • Each growing space has a designated tank that will supply water and extra nutrients.

    Step 8: Internal CO2 Filtering - GNOME Box

    *The Image above does not display actual material used. Material was altered for these sheets due to making it easier to understand.

    Equipped on the outsides of each glass cover are filters to push and pull air from one growing space to the next. The purpose of this is to regulate the amount of CO2 and oxygen is contained within each growing space.

    As the image above shows, that each growing space will circulate with two other growing spaces. This creates a system in which 'stale' surrounding gases will not happen.

    Step 9: Internals 2- GNOME BOX

    *The Image above does not display actual material used. Material was altered for these sheets due to making it easier to understand.

    More in depth display of the internal pumping systems and sensors that are used to control and maintain general operation of the GNOME Box.

    This internal closed looped pump is really some of the bread and butter of the internals of this panel. Later within this presentation you will be able to see how the loop is completed to keep a constant pressure to move water and addition nutrients throughout the Growing Pod.

    Step 10: Internal Lighting - GNOME Box

    The lighting structure within the GNOME Box is a little bit of a lighting powerhouse that contains eight-hundred and sixty four - one centimeter lights, providing a full spectrum LEDs.(300-840nm)

    • These separate bulbs can be swapped out for preferred usage.
      • A greater number of lights that can range in lighting spectrum.
    • Each arm can be swapped out at a single time, or each light for smaller bulb replacement.
    • Three-hundred and sixty degree lighting.
    • Internal rechargeable batteries to power the internal lighting.
    • Controlled by arduino boards
      • Can change lighting patterns by what the specific plant needs.
    • Uses passive cooling
      • Thermal Aluminum heat sinks are used to connect each individual light to our lighting frame.

    Step 11: Internal Lighting 2 - GNOME Box

    Internal GNOME lighting structure with dimension annotations.

    Step 12: Internal Lighting 3 - GNOME Box

    Call out of the GNOME internal lighting structure.

    • Displays one of the single lights that can be replaced.
      • Single light with dimension annotations.
    • Lighting spectrum
      • 300-840nm
    • Passive Cooling
      • Thermal heat sinks are used as the LED light track. Meaning that our LED lights slide into their own heat sink.
    • Controlled with Audrinos and Python
      • I have attached a picture of some sample python code I pulled from a open source growing project. You are able to set the lighting strengths and variants. Since we are not using lights that use a dimming setting, instead this function will be used to turn off some of the lights at specific times instead of dim. Can be found (

    Step 13: Grow Pod - GNOME Box

    For the piece de re·sis·tance we come to the Growing Pod. Designing the Growing Pod unit for the GNOME box was almost as challenging as the box itself. The reasons being that if designed incorrectly, then all of the other components of my GNOME Box would be essentially useless. The Growing Pod has a number of features that tie the entire project together.

    The three main objects of interest for the Growing Pod are:

    • Continues the closed looped system beneath the substrate to evenly disperse water and extra nutrients throughout.
    • Uses a system of mesh netting keeping soil and the plant in place during all stages of plant growth.
      • Mesh netting separates different layers of substrate/soil types. Within each layer of soil will be different nutrients the plant will need to grow throughout its life cycle.
    • Takes advantage of a multi-sensor arduino board to monitor hydration, nutrients and lighting.

    Closed Loop System

    Being a closed loop system, the water that is pumped in displaces nitrogen that is currently sitting within the Growing Pod. Further down you will be able view where the water is pumped into the Growing Pod. Above this pump value you can see a return value that pushes the nitrogen that is currently in the Growing Pod back into the water storage tank, creating a full and true closed loop system.

    Mesh Netting

    The Growing Pod uses multiple layers of mesh netting that allows the roots of the plant to take hold, creating an anchor like point. We used a normal type of drainage netting that can really be purchased anywhere. This drainage netting is excellent for absorbing water as well. This is guide the roots along the lines of the mesh netting for a even greater anchoring point. This drainage mesh lets roots and water move through freely. The mesh netting as previously stated, separates different types of soil with different levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium

    Additional Arduinos

    I know throughout this project I reply heavily on arduino based systems. Though the reason being is that arduinos are extremely cheap and easy to program and even hook up multiple sensors too. Often in my experience I have used python to control all of my arduino boards.

    Reusable Plant Pods

    Reusing the plant pod itself was something that I did think about during design. The plant pods are small allowing them to be sent back to Earth to be refilled with new substrate, netting and seedling before being sealed with nitrogen for the next use.

    Step 14: Grow Pod 2 - GNOME Box

    In the display above you are able to see the Growing Pod with some dimensional annotations.

    • The plant seed will be pre-planted here on Earth, surrounded by nitrogen to keep the seed in a state of suspension, keeping it fresh throughout its journey.
    • Once the water tank pumps in water through our closed looped system, this nitrogen gets pushed back into the water storage tank to keep pressure.

    Step 15: Grow Pod 3 - GNOME Box

    Within the cross sections of the Growing Pod, you will notice there is no substrate depicted. This is to make it easier to understand the internals of the Growing Pod.

    Closed Loop Pump Explained

    • Earlier I talked about how this Growing Pod provides for a true internal looped system. This page provides a model for the internals of the Growing Pod. Seen on the bottom left image, we are able to view the intake and output value for our closed loop system. You will see more about this when we discuss the plant life cycle down below.

    Mesh Netting Advantages

    • We can see from out cross section and bottom view of the Growing Pod the placements of the mesh netting.The mesh netting as previously stated, separates different types of soil with different levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium. This is often seen in professional growing nutrients that are added to large sums of water. The advantage here is that the nutrients will already be premixed into the soil.

    Step 16: Growing Pod Internal Layers

    The sheet above displays the different compositions of nutrients added to the substrate sections. These sections are separated by mesh netting that hold everything in place while allowing natural movement around the mesh. Different stages of plant growth require different nutrients to support them. For example, during the vegetative stage a plant will require more nitrogen and phosphorus.

    Here is a full list of nutrients used within the Grow Pod itself:

    Macro Nutrients

    • Nitrogen (N)
    • Phosphorus (P)
    • Potassium (K)

    Secondary Nutrients

    • Magnesium (Mg)
    • Sulfur (S)
    • Calcium (Ca)


    • Boron (B)
    • Chlorine (Cl)
    • Manganese (Mn)
    • Iron (Fe)
    • Nickel (Ni)
    • Copper (Cu)
    • Zinc (Zn)
    • Molybdenum (Mo)

    Step 17: Grow Pod 4 - GNOME Box

    To control the GNOME Box, we used external control hubs on the outside of the Growing Pods. The benefits to this are being able to monitor the plants life cycle through multiple different avenue of information such as but not limited to:


    • Monitoring humidity within each pod.
    • Monitoring current nutrient levels of each pod.


    • Overall status report of plant, throughout life cycle.
      • Monitors nutrient levels, pH and humidity into a single 'Status' i.e. 97%.
    • Terminal based controls to internal sensors and pumps.
      • Overall system health
    • Can start and terminate processes here.


    • Manual Override switches for:
      • Master Switch
      • Pumps
      • Lighting
      • Sensors


    • Additional programmable switches to make daily reporting automated.

    Step 18: Preparation - GNOME Box

    *Additional specifications and information is contained within the slide itself. Please view image above for more details.

    The initial construction and preparation of the GNOME Box will be completed here on Earth, before being sent up to be re-assembled in space.


    • A pump hose is attached to the exterior of the door panel. Water and minor nutrients are then pumped into the central filling area within the panel.
    • Once the center area reaches a certain capacity of water, an internal pump turns on and starts redirecting the water into the water storage tanks.
    • Once the tanks are full, (another audrino sensor) the water will single a shutoff switch to the first pump to stop pumping water.
    • An internal valve then closes followed by the hose detaching itself from the panel. Having this value close before the hose detaches is what creates the initial pressure inside the panel itself.

    Step 19: Building the GNOME Box in Space

    *Additional specifications and information is contained within the slide itself. Please view image above for more details.

    The construction of the GNOME Box in space is made to be as easy as connection three of the six panel door together. Then, attaching the middle lighting structure followed by the other three door panels. Since having a user friendly design was one of my beginning goals, lets check it out.


    • Once the GNOME Box is sent to space, the end user will have to unpack it per panel.
    • Then start with the base or bottom panel in place first. Connect one of the wall panels to the base with the help of the door magnets. If the magnets repel each other, turn the door clockwise and try again. Then you will attach a third panel to the first two existing panels. (This can all be seen earlier in the presentation when I discussed construction of the GNOME Box). This is where you will attach the center lighting fixture to the first three panels. Then connect the last three panels on to your existing structure.

    Once the construction of the box is completed we will be able to insert the growing pod into one of the door panels, as seen above. NOTE* I only have one panel showing in the image above to make it easier to understand what is trying to be portrayed.

    • Once the end user inserts the Growing Pod into the panels of the GNOME Box, the user will then be able to turn on the Growing Pod Control Panel.

    Step 20: Using the GNOME Box in Space

    *Additional specifications and information is contained within the slide itself. Please view image above for more details.

    • Once the user plugs in all four Growing Pods into a panel, the panel will automatically turn on and start the process of hydrating the substrate within the Growing Pod. A manual start setting can be set if the user only wishes to grow a single pod within that door panel.
    • The end user will be able to monitor all plant health and system setting from the Control Panel on the backs of the Growing Pods.

    Step 21: Recharging the Internal Lithium Batteries

    The batteries within the GNOME Box are all rechargeable. These batteries should last a decent amount of time, however, constantly lighting and monitoring does use up quite a bit of power. For this reason, we are able to charge the GNOME Box externally from the same ports the initial water is pumped in from.

    Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

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      3 years ago

      Congratulations on being a finalist!


      3 years ago

      Congratulations on being selected as a finalist in the Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest!
      Thanks for sharing your Instructable! Good Luck!