Neowin ThinkTank (TM) -- Gardening on Mars


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Unobscured Vision

Neowin ThinkTank -- "Gardening on Mars":

 

Objectives: We have eight years to design a successful Botanical Mission that will allow us to grow any variety of plant life (including edibles) that we choose on Mars. We need to define parameters, determine what we have at our disposal (both on Earth and on Mars), what technologies are available to us that will assist in that endeavor, and what we ultimately want to accomplish with the Botanical Mission once it is implemented on Mars.

 

We will likely want (and need) to conduct extensive research on the flora in all stages of growth to determine if it is safe to consume, and to determine what changes occur due to the Martian soil and other environmental factors.  The Botanical Mission is critical for future long-term Settlements on Mars, and the data gathered during this and subsequent Missions is vital.

 

Personnel Required(3) It will require a Botanist (reference), a Biologist specializing in Agricultural Science (reference), and an Environmental Geologist (reference), all preferably skilled in Research and Field Experimentation as well as Practical Application of these talents. These individuals will actually grow many varieties of plants in a controlled environment, and the work will be labor-intensive at times. These individuals should be physically fit, motivated, enthusiastic, professional, and able to do the work required. The parameters and requirements concerning these Personnel will become better defined as the Mission Parameters evolve.

 

Equipment RequiredObviously, this Mission will require payload weight and specialized equipment. Fortunately, the technologies and gear needed for this endeavour are mostly lightweight and small. Recycling and ISRU Technologies have had a true revolution in the last five years, and these will greatly assist with the Botanical Mission -- in fact, they will make this Mission possible at substantially lower payload weights and with far less financial costs than they would have even five or ten years ago. Massive improvements in 3D Printing technologies have lowered these weight commitments even further.

 

What will be required, from a payload standpoint, should be quite low relative to the other Missions. Remember that overall Payload Weight, while quite large, is still a factor and we need to save weight where/however we can.

 

Also remember that the Overall Mission Plan is we're building a large Geodesic Dome with the Main Mission Team. That construction will occur first. Our Garden will likely be isolated from the Dome to preserve the Air Purification and Conversion System until it is proven to not be an impediment to that system -- unless we've been forced to have our Garden in a smaller, separate Dome.

 

Other Requirements/Concerns/ObjectivesThis is what we need to figure out also.

 

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FloatingFatMan

For the sake of efficiency, hydroponics would be the best route to take as it allows you to maximise crop production in very limited space, doesn't need to make use of potentially unsuitable Martian soil, and would allow immediate consumption of produce without having to perform safety tests first.

 

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DocM

Hydroponics or the use of containers with artificial media. You can grow root crops nicely in them. It's a loose environment which lets the root expand without introducing water rot, and something real like sorghum, bamboo fibers, synthetic pellets etc. work as well. Container gardening also lets you set up tiered rows of crops, improving the yield per m2. 

 

As I noted in the other thread; the ECLSS water system, especially the Paragon SDC permeable membrane system recently sent to ISS, would remove nitrates and phosphates which is 2/3 of fertilizer. Potassium is in Mars soil, and easily extractable from its perchlorate.  Trace elements are chemistry 201.

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PGHammer

More like hydroponics AND the use of containers with artificial media, ALA the Desert Biodome, for foodstuffs, oxygenation, and recycling of wastes (of all sorts - human, animals, and even plant wastes not used by humans and animals, such as nitrogen).  As to why a dome, we literally have NO idea what happens to bound elements in Martian soil under catalyzation (that in itself will need to be studied - and without poisoning our prospective colonists).

 

I'm thinking of a four-dome structure.

 

Dome One - human colonists and their support structure (minus recycling)

Dome Two - Recycling Dome

Dome Three  - Catalystic Test Dome One (research into interaction between Martian soil and materials from Earth under test conditions)

Dome Four - Phase Two Catalystic Test Dome, based on results from CTD One (could include limited human exposure if results from CTD One indicate no danger).

 

 

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DocM

The ITS plan is to use domes, bit some tunnels or caves will be needed for radiation shielding. The issue isn't so much solar radiation, the CO2 atmosphere at low elevations is good for that, but cosmic radiation - mostly high energy protons and gammas.

 

It'd take several meters of dome glass to shield most cosmics and electromagnetic radiation shielding for the protons would need a nuclear reactor. There's plenty of thorium on Mars, and a liquid salt reactor is passively safe. I'd go one step further and use an accelerator induced liquid salt reactor; turn off the accelerator and everything stops cold.

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Unobscured Vision

Heya folks, I'm back. Busy day of extra Doc appointments (not @DocM variety, unless he's an MD :laugh:) and general "preparing for Thanksgiving Day" stuff.

 

I like the idea of using Molten Salt reactors. They're passively safe, as Doc said. Turn 'em off and there's no problem with leaving them as-is. IIRC, you can turn them back on again with some prep work -- gotta prime them, build up the furnace temperature, check for breaches and pressure losses, air/CO2 (in our case) infiltration, make sure you don't have any stratification clogs that aren't clearing out, etc. Pretty much what you'd expect if you're versed in working with high temperature/high pressure electric-generating steam systems with an added element of a molten substance (and all of it's characteristics). Just gotta make sure they don't go boom. Thorium is an option too, there's a lot of that in Mars. We can 3D print most of the stuff that's needed for both systems right there; but I'm more comfortable with building the Molten Salt Reactor myself because it's easier and faster. In my view, a Thorium Reactor requires several levels of additional complexity that we really shouldn't bother with until later on; ie, when we're talking about a thousand people and several ships or more heading to Mars in a single location for permanent colonization purposes. :yes:

 

I also like the idea of having small, pre-formed, fertilized containers with which to give our plants a great foothold. And they're super light too. What about fashioning those on Mars using some treated Martian soil that we've already prepared for that purpose? Infuse 'em with nutrients, fertilizer and everything plants need from the ISRU and Recycling systems? That way we don't have to carry those pre-formed containers on the Ship from Earth, saving precious payload weight. I know it's perhaps 10 or 20 lbs, but that's 10 or 20 lbs that can be used for something else that could be vital to the overall Mission. :D Just a consideration, maybe it's necessary to bring them from Earth after all and fashioning them from the ISRU & Recycling gear is too much of a stretch. Thoughts?

 

And ditto on the "Large Container Gardening". That's a fantastic way to do things, and it's a good way to test how Martian Soil will react to plant life (and those processes) ... then we can determine if it's safe to "plant" directly in that soil on subsequent Missions or if it needs to be done that way every time. We're in uncharted territory, and we don't wanna poison anyone. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

 

Something I was thinking about on that note ... the perchlorates can really mess with the body (reference -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perchlorate#Health_effects). Is there anything useful we can do with them? I know once they hit water they're even more dangerous because they start subliminating ... (reading -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perchlorate#Chemical_properties). Chemically they'd be useful if they weren't so nasty, and if there was a way to subject them to some sort of ISRU Conversion process and liberate those four Oxygen atoms from the Chloride anion we'd be in business. Problem is that anions like Chloride can't be reduced, so we're stuck for now on this one. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perchlorate#Natural_abundance:

 

Quote

On September 28, 2015, NASA announced that analyses of spectral data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument (CRISM) on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter from four different locations where recurring slope lineae (RSL) are present found evidence for hydrated salts. The hydrated salts most consistent with the spectral absorption features are magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate.

Hmm. Wonder how (or even if) we could use that. Two of them are not the typical perchlorates we even see on Earth's surface; gotta go underground for those. Sodium

Perchlorate is found pretty much everywhere on Earth's surface as well as in it, wherever there's Salt deposits or areas where high-salinity water exists or has existed in abundance (like the Dead Sea and Yellowstone).

 

Anyway, moving on.

 

Domes and Chamber Cuts. I like the idea of having some protection from Solar and Cosmic radiation events, and that includes our plants which will get nuked in happenstances like those. We'll need to protect them just like we would ourselves. So yeah, having the Greenhouse inside a Chamber Cut would be the best option until a suitable Dome with ample protection can be fashioned. Or until we learn how to generate our own protective Magnetic Field, even locally (and I've got some ideas about that too ... ;))

 

Keep 'em coming, folks, this is great. :yes: 

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The Evil Overlord

I shouldn't have just watched 12 Days a Slave before I saw this thread

so tempted to make politically incorrect jokes..... :p 

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Unobscured Vision

Go home TEO, yer drunk! :laugh::rofl:;) 

 

(Seriously, I laughed out loud when I saw your post. I got the reference ... you're a pip! lmao ...)

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DocM

From 2015, attendees said a colony was mentioned several times.

 

Sites pdf

 

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/exploration-zone-map-v10.pdf

 

Site analysis

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/mars-c-abstracts_in_order_of_presentation10242015_0.pdf

 

N.B. Nili Fossae is the closest to the big water find in Utopia Plantina

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Unobscured Vision

Those aren't loading for me, @DocM. :( Server's down.

 

We're getting as good with navigating on Mars as we are on Earth. We'll have local landmarks soon too. ;) 

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DocM

Weird, they just downloaded for me. Try again.

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Unobscured Vision

Working for me now. I'm looking at 10242015's pdf ("Mars C Abstracts In Order of Presentation"). Interesting stuff. I'll locate and overlay them on a big map layer tonight so that we can correlate those locations to other data maps on Mars Trek and other resources. I think that'll come in handy later on. ;) As we get data on other possible ROI's (SpaceX, etc) and LZ's we can add those to the Mission Locations overlay and lend a hand. We've pretty much got access to the same data that NASA does -- and we're really good at picking apart what's what. 

 

* up until SpaceX gets their Mapping and Sensor Platforms in orbit. Then everything improves by orders of magnitude. :yes: 

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Unobscured Vision

I've been doing some more digging about the Subsurface Ice Deposits, and it turns out that the figures are more than originally stated. :yes: They're finding these all over the place and in quite large quantities! Utopia's is a nice, large one with 1.2 times the volume of Lake Superior, while the one at Arcadia Planitia is more sedate at half the thickness but just as large, putting it at roughly 0.6x the volume of Lake Superior; or just about the volume of Lake Erie for perspective -- still a huge amount of water, folks!

 

And there's likely to be way more -- they've been finding smaller subsurface patches all over Mars since 2005, according to the articles I've been reading. These are the first really big subsurface fields. Plenty more to come on this front. :D 

 

Take a gander at the article below. It's a fantastic read.

 

Reference: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/2016/1122-subsurface-water-ice-in-utopia-planitia-mars.html

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DocM

Yup, and the techs developed for water extraction on Mars should baseline designs for other water ice rich bodies; Ceres, outer Jovian moons, Titan etc.

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Unobscured Vision

#### YES. :yes: Should make those technologies purr like kittens elsewhere. Can't wait to see 'em implemented.

 

Between these and the ISRU's using that Copper-based process (the ~60%-yield Ethanol one), we're gonna be off to a fantastic start. There's still some stuff to be sorted, they're having some trouble converting the Ethanol into other things upwards on the tree with good yields and low effort (Ethanol -> Methanol -> Methane, for instance). That's really the only holdup right now, trying to get Methane from it easily -- breaking stuff down is trivial; it's getting CH4 from CH3 that's difficult. You automatically lose 50% of the efficiency off the top just in doing it (because it takes two units of CH3 to make one CH4), and they're figuring out ways of improving that number (if it's even possible to do it).

 

It can be argued "why not just convert the engines to run on Ethanol?" -- that's already been used before and they don't work very well compared to newer systems; plus Ethanol is rather dangerous to store over long periods of time. Think Hydrogen and JP-1 (Jet Fuel), and you'll just about have Ethanol's quirks. It's a bit corrosive too, so parts that get exposed to it, especially Oxygen-enriched Ethanol (like what we'd need for rocket engines) will degrade, oxidize in strange ways, and generally fail more rapidly compared to Methane-based ones. It's overall not a good option. These do have a history, though. The Mercury/Redstone engine was Ethanol-based. So was the Bell-X1's that Chuck Yeager flew. Maybe new/innovative designs can resurrect this fuel source -- after all, the SpaceX Merlin engines are derivatives of the LEM engine, and it's the most efficient rocket engine ever.

 

(References for an Ethanol-based Rocket Engine:)

https://www.google.com/patents/US8101032

http://www.astronautix.com/l/loxalcohol.html

http://stars.library.ucf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1157&context=patents

 

 

Far as Life Support goes, those technologies are already sussed and good to go. Always room for improvement though.

 

Enough of my ranting. :D 

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DocM

On Titan you lakes of petrochemicals and methane rain, with ice surfaces. If nothing else it's a huge gas station.

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Unobscured Vision

Yeah, we'd have to be super careful there. Likely we'd never be able to set boots on the ice at all. 

 

[EDIT] But by golly it would be the "Fuel Moon", for sure. Stick a couple hoses into the lake and just suck up all the Methane your tanks can hold. :yes: ISRU your LOX for the other tanks, superchill 'em (and it'd be easy there), and you're golden. Use something not involving flammable processes to get you to high altitude ((where you don't set the entire moon on fire) then get yourself on your way.

Edited by Unobscured Vision
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