Project R.A.G. - Mission Briefing

 

 

 

1. Introduction

Hi! This will be my first blog for the 1 Meter of Pi Design Challenge. I'm starting a bit late, because I was finishing up another project that I wanted to incorporate into this project. There is still more than a month to go, which will go through really fast, but nevertheless I think I'll have enough time to accomplish everything I wanted for this project. This blog will be the mission briefing for this project. Here, I will cover some of the ideas had, some of the things I've found while doing research and so on, with the end goal of making a module fit to wait for people who are going to Mars.

 

2. Idea

Let's begin with the name of the project, Project RAG. RAG stands for Robot Assisted Garden. My plan is to have a bit of fun with this project and make a conceptual module for food experimentation on another planets such as Mars. SpaceX is planning their first uncrewed launch as soon as 2022. Before explaining my project idea, let's take a loot at what has already been done with growing food in space.

 

Growing food in space

Let's talk Mars. As you know Mars is the red planet 4th from the Sun in our Solar system. Humans haven't been there yet (can't wait to re-read this sentence in a couple of years), but we have sent a few mission and robots there like Curiosity. With the current rocket technology we are looking at around 9 month trip in each direction to reach the red planet. Of course, the people on board will have to grab a bite or two along the way as well as they get there, and as future plans are showing establishing a settlement there, there needs to be some kind of way to produce food, both on the rocket that will take people there, as well as have a way to produce food on the red planet itself. Here are 2 really interesting Nasa missions I found while looking around online, those being the project Veggie and Advanced Plant Habitat 2.

 

Veggie

Veggie is a plant growth unit on the International Space Station, it's a simple low-power system to grow fresh, nutritious food on the ISS. There are 2 veggie units aboard the ISS. The veggie was flew to the ISS in April of 2014 aboard the SpaceX CRS-3 commercial resupply mission and was installed on the ISS on May 7, 2014. The whole system uses about 70W of power for the lights, fans and control electronics. I found a great article on Nasa's website going over how the whole system is designed and how it operates on the ISS: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/veggie_fact_sheet_508.pdf

 

Seed Planting

 

Pillows Preparation for Flight

 

Here is a link to a video on how the plants are watered on that experiment using a big syringe. In the pdf I've linked above there is a really good explanation on what they are using to hold the plants, all of the materials and how they're delivering the water to them: https://images.nasa.gov/details-ISS-Downlink-Video_Acaba-VEG-03-Experiment_Veggie_HD-DL-5_2017_269_1128_566623_hires.htm…

 

Plant Habitat-02

Plant Habitat-02 or Advanced Habitat-02 is a recent addition to the ISS. It was launched aboard the Northtop Grumman's 14th Cargo Resupply Mission which launched in October of 2020. Compared to the Veggie, this has an incredible number of sensors and amount of electronics as a part of it, you can see some of the details of the Plant Habitat here: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/advanced-plant-habitat.pdf

 

 

This system, how complex it is and how it looks is simply said amazing. Unlike veggie, this is an automated system, it has over 180 different sensors and it uses a porous clay substrate with controlled delivery of water and fertilizer for optimal plant growth. A version 1 of this system was already tested back in 2018, https://www.nasa.gov/content/growing-plants-in-space . And just about a week ago, Nasa published on Twitter that they have radishes growing onboard the ISS.

 

 

In the video below you can also see how the Plant Habitat looks onboard the ISS:

 

Growing food on Mars

     The things above talked about growing food while being onboard a spaceship, and of course, when a single crew lands, if they've survived for 9 months by growing the food they'll survive more with the same set up, but to make that sustainable would mean that each crew would have to have their own food setup, while a better option would be to at one point, start growing the food on Mars. This is something that scientist have already experimented with a lot, more specifically, they looked at the soil on Mars. They evaluated the samples picked up by Curiosity and determined that the volcanic dirt can be used as a substitute on earth to try and see how plants would behave being planted on such soil. To their surprise, a lot of the plants grew really well. While the Martian soil is lacking dead organisms as well as some alive ones in the soil, it still has a lot of the nutrients that plants need to grow, of course, fertilizer needs to be used to add the missing ones.

 

 

Of course, there is the problem of how far from the Sun Mars is, which brings problems like not enough light, temperature, different atmosphere and so on, but, in enclosed spaces it might be possible to actually grow crops there. There was a short video on DNews a while back which covered this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lav4ydRaN7k  .

 

My Idea

     My idea is to design and build a conceptual module which would automatically grow food on Mars and be used as an experimentation setup for testing out different soils and different types of crops. Going back to the name of Robot Assisted Garden, it will for the most part be run by a robot arm which will go and do different kinds of tasks like, measure soil humidity at various point, plant seeds, take samples, get angles with the camera and so on. In the last few weeks I was working on designing a sensor kit for my robot arm: Sensor Kit For BRACCIO  which I plan on using for this project. The main brain of this project will be of course a Raspberry Pi 4, which will use the Pimoroni hat to track some of the parameters of our garden. Besides that, it will be the main unit which will control all of the different modules as well as power to them. There will be another sensor module which will be used to double check all of the measurements on the Raspberry, a light module which will control the lighting system in the project, robot module which I already covered in my braccio blog and so on. Here is a picture of my original concept drawing for this project:

In the original sketch there were 2 levels to the garden, first being the traditional garden, while the second level was a hydrophonics system. I will be mostly be concentrated on the lower level as I have described already, but if I have some time left at the end, I'll also go and play with the second level. This was the very first sketch I did for this project, so of course, my mind has changed on a few things, what will be where and so on. But for the most part, the arm will be on rails which it will be able to move up and down and go between two small gardens. It will have a quick change tool head on it so it can switch it's head for various different tasks. I will be changing some of the things, where they're located and will also be adding some additional things. But I will talk about them when I finalize them. And in the end, here is the picture of our gardener for this project (he's an artist in his free time as you can see by the marker he's holding, but let's just say he's still learning how to draw....):


Since this is supposed to be an experimentation station, I'm still working out plans for making a small lab as a module for this project. I want to have a place where the robot can put samples of dirt or samples of plants, where I can do some analysis, things like color of the leaves from the sample, soil pH levels and so on, but this is a part I'm still trying to work out on exactly what I want it to do, so it will come towards the end of this project.

 

3. Plan

     With my idea and goals out of the way, I can talk about the plan for the build of this project. The thing I'm considering the main part which is the robot has the sensor kit finished which was by far the biggest time consumer for this project, but there are still a lot of small things that I need to finish. The thing I think will take a lot of time, and much more than I think is probably the software, so that's the part I'll be trying to keep as simple as possible to not lost too much time at it. I'll start by establishing a way to communicate between the Raspberry and the different modules and then build one module at a time from there. As for the mechanical part, I need to go and get some supplies to build the whole structure which will hold the gardens as well as the rails for the robot to ride on. There is also a question of the quick change tool head, the different tool heads and so on, but I'll tackle each one as I get to it. I'm saying this now, but of course, as time goes, and as I'm working on this project, I'll be getting new ideas along the way or better ideas for already mentioned things, so of course, things are prone to changing for sure.

 

4. Next Step

     That's somewhat of a wider plan for the next 2 or 3 weeks, but right now, since the time is running out fast, there is a couple of things that I need to address primarily before going out and work on 5 different sides all at once just to end up with a long things that don't work with each other. To stop that from happening I will be focusing on these things for the next few blogs:

 

  • Communication between Raspberry and modules
  • Communication between Raspberry and PC
  • Main mechanical structure
  • Quick tool change head
  • Starter kit unboxing

 

In the next blog for this competition I will cover the starter kit I received for this competition and describe what parts of the kit I'll use and why and will be tackling one of the above mentioned important steps.

 

5. Summary

     This will wrap up my first blog for the 1 Meter of Pi Design Challenge. I wrote about things that NASA has been doing with plants in space which I found really interesting as well as gave a short brief on what I want to do for this competition. There's isn't too much time left for this competition, but again, there is over a month left which isn't a small amount of time either. I'll need to try and keep things as simple as possible and not overcomplicate them too much as there really isn't enough time for that. I hope you like my idea for this project. If you have any ideas or comments about it please let me know! Thanks for reading the blog, hope you liked it!

 

Milos

 

 

Relevant links for the competition:

Link to my GitHub where you can find all of the files used for this project (code, 3D models,...):

Link to my Project Collection:

 

 

Next Blog
Project R.A.G. - Blog #2 - Strapped In For Launch - Connectors