Introduction: Zero Gravity Garden -Grow Beyond Earth

I am submitting my entry into the Grow Beyond Earth contest under the professional category. The enclosure I designed allows you to grow sufficiently and maximize crop yield in a confined space with zero gravity. The layout of the design allows setups that would be difficult to sustain on earth, but is perfect for the intended environment. First I wanted to make sure I followed the guidelines to this contest and understand the problem they are trying to solve.

Step 1: Cube Enclosure

The first problem I needed to tackle was the space limitation so I created the enclosure with the allowed space, which is 50cm cube. It was constructed out of plywood and 1x2 boards to help with the framing. This structural build is efficient and cost effective. The system will need to be light yet sturdy without costing too much to construct. All of these things considered, the materials chosen are the right fit. Aluminum or titanium framing would be suitable for the ISS because it would be thinner material for more growing area and a stronger structural hold.

Step 2: Plant Trays

Next, I added trays that will house the plants. These will be placed on the top, bottom, left and right sides within the cube. The plant trays used can be purchased at your local depot store. Instead of water in a liquid state the system would utilize hydro gel to be effective under a zero-gravity environment. An example of this would be a product like Orbeez. The gel will retain the water to remove the possibility of it floating around. The hydro gel will contain the necessary nutrients required by the plants.

For the seeds I would have a recycled paper/fabric material similar to a paper towel sheet, with the seeds infused in them. When you go to start your plants you pick the seeds you want and apply the hydrogel to the paper sheet. When the tissue makes contact with the hydro gel it will pull the water from it, soak the seeds, and activate them to germinate. Another way you can start germinating seeds is planting them in test tubes and when they sprout their first leaves you can transfer them to the hydro gel trays.

Some of the plants that are perfect for this system are various lettuce types, kale, spinach, and microgreens since you can harvest them in as little as 10 days. There are dwarf plants you can grow like a tomato plant that stays small and yields quite a bit.

Step 3: LED Grow Light

Since the plants will be in an enclosure we will use LED grow lights. They consume very little energy and will produce significantly less heat than alternatives. Each LED grow light will have an individual plug. The wall that the tubes will be attached to will contain electrical grids similar to a pegboard so that each hole is an electrical contact point allowing you to place the grow light anywhere at the proper distance. The LED light has an adjustable emitting radius from 180-360 degrees. This means that the grow lights can rotate a full 360 degrees depending on the design chosen. With adjustable lights you can ensure that all plants will get the appropriate lighting. Plants thrive on CO2 so I suggest having a CO2 tank in the bottom compartment that when your plant is at a good enough size you install the CO2 exhaust tubes. You can set the CO2 to release in timed bursts or do a manual release. This would give an added boost to grow efficiently.

Step 4: Tall Plants Low Space Waste

Since one of the issues is when a plant grows tall, the space below is going to waste. The leaves also block the light from hitting the plants below. With the adjustable lights you can place some below the tall plants leaves to give light to the new plants growing in. I didn't have a tall plant but used a kale plant in a container as an example.

Step 5: Front Door/panel

My design for the door is slightly thicker so it can be storage for some components. At the top area it will have a compartment to hold the grow lights for temporary storage until you use them. Below that compartment will be the extra nutrients so if you wanted to help give the plants an added boost, you just get the syringe, fill it with the liquid nutrient and inject it in various areas in the hydro gel. It would be a high concentration of nutrients so a small amount would go a long way.

On the top right of the door will be an LED display that will show the temperature, humidity, light and CO2 timers. You will also be able to set the timer from there as well as the manual release button for the CO2. On the inside panel of the door it will have a rubber seal and will also have a reflective coating so it bounces the grow light back at the plants. The back electrical panel would also have that same reflective surface.

Step 6: Overall All View

Here is an overall view of it fully assembled. I have the lights on a 12 hour on off cycle.
With this design you will be able to quickly produce the most nutritious greens possible. The setup allows you to grow microgreens year-round and adjust settings to meet any needs.

Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

Participated in the
Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest