BIG Idea Challenge 2019 Finalists To Develop Planetary Greenhouse Concepts

Artist’s rendering of the interior of a potential Mars greenhouse. Image Credit: SEArch+

February 5, 2019 – No drive-through? No problem. University students are designing greenhouses so astronauts can grow their own food on Mars.

NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) selected five university teams to participate in the 2019 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. The challenge seeks to provide innovative ideas for the design, installation and sustainable operation of a habitat-sized Mars greenhouse, with the primary purpose of food production. An efficient and safe greenhouse design could not only assist with Mars missions, but also long-term lunar missions.

“I always look forward to these competitions because they draw the creativity of the next generation of researchers and engineers,” said NASA Game Changing Development (GCD) Program Manager Drew Hope.

The following teams and projects are finalists in the 2019 BIG Idea Challenge:

  • Dartmouth College
    Deployable Enclosed Martian Environment for Technology, Eating, and Recreation (DEMETER)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Biosphere Engineered Architecture for Viable Extraterrestrial Residence (BEAVER)
  • University of California, Davis
    Martian Agricultural and Plant Sciences (MAPS)
  • University of Colorado Boulder, Harvard University, Cornell University and University of Hawaii at Manoa​
    Feeding the Martians: Designing a Marsboreal Bioregenerative Food Garden
  • University of Michigan, Penn State University, Purdue University, Michigan State University and University of Wisconsin-Platteville​
    Greenhouse Attachment for the Ice Home Architecture (GAIA)

For this challenge, NASA is seeking novel concepts for a Mars greenhouse design that complement the unique design of the Mars ice home. The Mars ice home is a cost-effective habitat concept that provides the large flexible workspace needed for an early Martian outpost.

This year’s BIG Idea Challenge teams will tackle both the crop cultivation, or food production, elements of the theme as well as the mechanical and aerospace engineering elements of the design.

“I am really excited about the innovative ideas from the university teams that took up this design challenge,” said GCD Program Element Manager Kevin Kempton. “We intentionally did not define how the workspace should be used so it would be an open invitation to the passionate people who dream of living on a new world.”

The teams of students and their faculty advisors will work together to propose habitat size, form and a systems design concept which provides the surface area and volume needs for efficient plant production balanced with the volume and mass constraints of an inflatable structure-based construction. The goal of the challenge is to create a greenhouse design that will respond to and provide a vision for the plausible use of plants for space missions and incorporate as much as possible from in-situ resource utilization.

The designs should indicate the potential to use plants for food production and also for supporting environmental control and life support systems. Designers must consider ease of fabrication and deployment, technology readiness, and operations in Martian environments.

In addition to providing life-sustaining nutrition, a Mars greenhouse could also strengthen the emotional health and well-being of astronauts. Astronauts at early Martian outposts will be exposed to scenery composed mostly of red dust with little variation of color. A greenhouse could serve as an oasis of color and life on an otherwise barren landscape.

Over the next couple of months, the five selected teams will continue developing their proposed concepts, submit a technical paper and create a prototype of their design. The teams will then present their concepts in a face-to-face design review at the 2019 BIG Idea Forum held at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in April 2019.

Each team will receive a $6,000 stipend and NASA will also offer up to five summer internships for students participating in the forum. These selections will be based on the cumulative merit of each student’s individual internship application and availability.

The BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development program and managed by the NIA.