Introduction: The Augment
The Augment by agLuna
Professional Submission by Marc Boas, Andreas Tziolas, PhD of agLuna LLC / Anchorage Makerspace
All rights reserved
The Augment is a plant growth system optimized for use in micro gravity, consisting of the following:
- Augment; the chassis which handles the illumination, air circulation, water and nutrient delivery system.
- Planet; a removable growth surface which contains the grow pods and is located precisely at the center of the Augment chamber and features 360 degree growth vectors (directions of growth) designed for zero gravity,
- Genesis Pods; modules which serve as incubator chambers and grow pods, which allow for asynchronous plant growth, diversity of plant types or the simple replacement of failed seeds or plants.
We list indicative materials, with dimensions shown on the CAD drawings.
- Acrylic (transparent) for Augment
- Acrylic (opaque, white) for Planet
- Acrylic (opaque, white) for Genesis Pods
- 3 x LED strips of 4 colors each white, red, green, blue
- 2 x 80 mm fans, or similar for air circulation
- Metal rod support for Planet
- Metal or Acrylic bracket for Planet
- 30 small LED indicator lights for Genesis Pod
- Micro controller, humidity, pH, etc sensors and interface touch-screen (Arduinos, shields and RPi)
A detailed bill of materials will be presented for Phase 2 of this competition.
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Step 1: Augment
The Augment is the chassis frame which will hold the device elements and modules together.
The Augment is a 50 x 50 x 50 cm diamond shaped cube (rhombi-cub-octa-hedron !), with trimmed corners.
The front, side and top facing panels are 40 cm square. The front panel is hinged with a magnetic latch, and is the main access to the interior of the Augment, from where the Planet can be removed or worked on. The surrounding panels are removable for transportation or as needed for repairs, but are otherwise intended to be fixed.
A Command Center screen will be placed on the front top of the exterior and will consist of a 12 inch RPi touchscreen monitor or similar, from where sensor readouts will be seen and adjusted. As the Augment is built for space, there will be plant growth in all directions which can be difficult for the user to see, so we will provide video feeds from the 8 corners of the device (see Tristar system below). Temperature, pH, Humidity, etc will be displayed and logs, notes and reminders will be kept on the device itself.
The exterior back panel will house the micro controllers, sensor electronics, a pump and small fan in an electronic box. As Phase 1 of this competition focuses on layout and arrangement, we will not be detailing the sensors, but we can imagine the usual suspects here - humidity, pressure, pH, CO2 PPM sensors and perhaps nutrient measurement and assay systems if needed, which will be detailed in Phase 2.
Water / Nutrient Provision: A tube will run through the bottom of the Augment interior to the front of where the main access door is, so it can be hooked up to a pump or syringe where water and nutrients will be delivered. Automating the water and nutrient solution delivery process can be addressed in Phase 2.
* Experiment: In most cases the nutrient update of the vegetables grown on the ISS will be known, however measuring nutrient absorption rates on plants grown in space could be an interesting experiment, if only to show definitively that they match the results found on earth. *
The Stem is a hollow pipe approximately 1 cm in diameter which extends from the center-back plate of the Augment opposite the door. The Planet will attach magnetically onto this pipe, which will have a cross-shaped bracket at the end featuring 4 magnets. The Stem will be the source of the water and nutrients for the plants which will be delivered directly to the roots. A pump with flow meter may be included to monitor the amount of fluids delivered.
The Stem bracket will have four magnetic attachment points which will correspond to equivalent magnetic attachment points on the Planet. Note that the magnets on the bracket holding the Planet does not need to be very strong.we because the Planet is weightless in the absence of gravity. The purpose of this arrangement is to allow the Planet to be removed easily, examined, worked on and replaced without obstacles.
The rectangular vertical sideand horizontal top panels are 40 by 7 cm on edge at 135 degrees from the front panels and are structural.
Airflow is managed by two quiet 80 mm, 5 Volt or similar fans attached to the structural rectangular panels. One fan will be placed approximately at the bottom right, driving air in and another at the top left, pulling air out. The intake fan will be ducted so as to push air in along the bottom right left wall, where it will naturally curve around the Augment. The air will rise due to viscosity with the walls and the bottom of the Augment, and move upwards creating a cyclonic air pattern. Therefore achieving a constant breeze through the Augment, across all leaves and plants so as to avoid fungus growthand help distribute and regulate oxygen, carbon dioxideand humidity throughout the chamber. Fan speeds will be adjustable as per the operator's specifications from the front command center.
* Regular airflow is absolutely necessary to help avoid fungus and algae growth. *
Tristars are the pyramidal corners which house the LED arrays, providing lighting in directions normal to the surface, thus facing the center of the Augment. As discussed further in the description of the Planet, the light being oriented at 45 degrees to the direction of growth of the plants at either side will encourage the lettuce grown there to grow away from its center axis, as it follows the source of the light and thus spread the plants outwards.
The LEDs are a critical component of the grow chamber, but also one which is likely to vary in performance and fail over time. To address this, the Tristars will be designed to be removable from the outside of the Augment, having a lip with conductors for power (and data, for video) as needed so they can be serviced or replaced easily. The operator will be able to monitor their power draw to infer their performance from the monitoring station.
The Tristar will have a central ultrabright White LED and Red, Green, Blue surrounding at each peak of the base of its pyramid shape, to augment the emission spectrum for various plants. The Outredgeous Romaine Lettuce we are targeting was said in the guidance videos to show benefits not only from the traditional red, blue, but also from having some broad white and green. A camera can also be mounted on each Tristar to record growth and provide information about all plants to the user easily at the front end display.
Given the availability and flexibility of LED specifications and form factors, we are certain our lighting system will be able to produce 300-400 𝜇mol/M2/s within PAR (400-700 nm), with this arrangement of Tristar LEDs (8 in total with one at each corner).
* Experiment: The Tristar's multicolor arrangement also provides opportunity for experimentation and flexibility for other crops.*
Step 2: Planet
The Planet is the center of the Augment, where the crops are placed for growth, held in place by the Stem, the metal feed tube extending out the back of the Augment.
The Planet dimensions are calculated based on the estimated size of each head of lettuce, which on our case become 15 cm high and 15 cm diameter at maturity, according to the guidance videos. This means that of the 50 cm total vertical height of the Augment, if we remove 15 cm + 15 cm = 30 cm, for the plants on each side, we are left with 20 cm for the size of the container and some space (0-5 cm) above the plant for illumination and air circulation. Therefore the Planet diameter can be between 10-20 cm long and can hold one plant per direction.
The optimum configuration is that of a reduced size Augment which fills the space closely as shown in the image. The geometrical shape is that of a Rhombicuboctahedron, with face triangles.
In the image attached we show a 2D Slice of the Planet to show how it relates to the Augment. The Blue Octagon represents the Planet, the white triangle represents the Genesis Pod. The Planet contains slots one each face where the Genesis Pods can be inserted, described in more detain in the next section.
The Planet has individual slots for the Genesis Pods. In this way, if a plant fails it can be swapped out with another pod without affecting other plants.
Mature plants can be harvested daily using a cyclical growth plan, so the astronauts do not have to harvest all plants at the same time, instead harvesting the plant for that day (also discussed in the guidance videos). For example, the Planet has 26 faces (minus one for the Stem!) and the Outredgeous Romaine Lettuce reaches maturity in about 28 days, permitting an near perfect growth to maturity and harvesting schedule.
The Planet is built out of acrylic or polycarbonate, with edges shown on the cut list held together with hinges
The Planet is meant to be removed by the astronaut entirely if needed, by pulling gently on the magnetic bracket which holds it to the back of the Augment.
After unhinging a few of the edges, the entire Planet can be opened and worked on, on a flat surface, where it would resemble the cut list image. In the absence of gravity, the materials, water would not escape but cling to the roots. This way astronauts can load the Planet up with multiple Genesis Pods, harvest, examine as needed without having to awkwardly reach into the chamber and fish around to remove one of the plants. We want to make the astronaut's lives as easy as possible and design a system which is robust, fast and functional.
Note that 8 of the sides will be triangles, but the general idea is the same in all 3 axial planes we show in the design drawings.
One of the square sides of the Planet will have 4 magnets and a hole which will attach to the Stem - the Augment's water and nutrient supply tube which comes out of the back of the chamber and holds the Planet in place.
Step 3: Genesis Pod
The Genesis Pod is a capsule where seeds can be germinated and immediately placed in the Planet for growth.
* Note: The dimensions of the Genesis Pods can vary. Our designs show an exemplary embodiment of the innovation.
Root Vectoring: In the image we show a Genesis Pod magnified, showing seed incubation chamber (green circle) and root growth vectoring channel concept. By "root growth vectoring", we are work with the idea that in zero- or micro-gravity, the plant needs some assistance in getting started in the correct direction, where we want all roots heading towards the center of the Planet where they will be watered and provided nutrients. The light entering the top of the Genesis Pod, should be sufficient to encourage the stem to move towards that direction.
The conic section helps the plant structurally and mechanically while it sprouts. When the plant is fully matured, the entire Genesis Pod can be removed and another can take its place.
* Clarification: The Genesis Pod is a system inspired from aeroponics, where water and nutrients are provided directly to the root system via droplets or mist. There is no growth medium considered, however one consisting of rockwool, hemp substrate, etc could be used if needed. The idea is to minimize or eliminate consumables in this system. We are also working on a means to recycle planet waste, eg. left over roots, cellulose.
Incubator: The seed is placed at the green circle where it is incubated. Seed progress is envisioned to be monitored by pressure sensors for signs of germination, as the shell breaks and the seedling emerges. We've devised a number of ways to attempt this, which we'll explore in Phase 2. Of course, any germination method will work, but we are attempting to make the process simple and repeatable, while also being able to test if the seed germinates correctly. For example, the user can prepare spare pods in case the seed fails to germinate, or can quickly replace plants which are not doing so well.
Reusable: The Genesis Pods are envisioned to be made of a hard plastic, and are not a consumables. After use the Pod is cleaned out, a new seed is placed inside it to be germinated, and the process continues.
The image attached shows the 2D use case of how the Genesis Pod, Planet and Augment interact.
The electronics at the back of the augment, the monitor on the front door, etc items are all presumed in this step, where we focus on the layout and operation of the Augment.
Step 4: Final Notes
We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this competition and look forward to constructing prototypes in Phase 2.
Step 5: About Us
Icarus Interstellar (2009) is a non-profit deep space and interstellar exploration research organization, which welcomes and encourages citizen science participation, as a way of offering education and participation in interesting space exploration related projects to anyone who is interested. For more information please visit icarusinterstellar.org
The Anchorage Makerspace (2014) was built to be the local lab of Icarus Interstellar, which puts concepts and ideas to the test. It has evolved into a fully fledged makerspace with laser cutters, cnc machines, etc and has become a premier rapid prototyping lab in Alaska. We are proud to have been one of the first sponsors and members of the creation of the Nation of Makers. For more information please visit anchoragemakerspace.com
agLuna (2017) is a company spun off of Icarus Interstellar, to focus specifically on agriculture for the spacecraft, space stations, the Moon and Mars. We believe the moon is the key to unlocking and proliferating space development. As all industry requires an agricultural basis, agLuna is dedicated to providing food and industrial first materials to lunar industry. We are currently compiling our research on soil culture development from various regoliths, work on the development of simulated lunar and martian regoliths and automated soil and planet health monitoring systems.
We are now very excited to contribute this project for the improvement of the quality of life of astronauts, cosmonauts and all star walkers living and working on the International Space Station.
Participated in the
Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest