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NASA’s 2019 BIG Idea Competition: Marsboreal Greenhouse Design Challenge

Posted August 2, 2018

The Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge is an initiative supporting NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD) efforts to rapidly mature innovative/high impact capabilities and technologies for infusion in a broad array of future NASA missions. In 2019, this GCD-sponsored engineering design competition seeks innovative ideas from the academic community for the design and operation of a Mars Greenhouse. Supplying reliable and effective food production systems on Mars will reduce the logistics needed to transport food from Earth and also promote crew health on long surface missions.

Participation in the BIG Idea Challenge is open to teams of undergraduate and graduate students studying in fields applicable to human space exploration (i.e., aerospace, electrical, and mechanical engineering; and life, physical, and computer sciences). The BIG Idea challenge allows students to incorporate their coursework into real aerospace design concepts and work together in a team environment. Interdisciplinary teams are encouraged.

Based on a review of proposed Mars Greenhouse concepts submitted by interested teams, up to 5 teams will be chosen to compete at the 2019 BIG Idea Forum at the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, VA in April, 2018. Each team will receive a monetary award to facilitate full participation in the BIG Idea Forum. Eligible students on teams that advance to the BIG Idea Forum will have the opportunity to compete for one of the five NASA summer internship slots set aside for BIG Idea participants.

Context for the 2019 BIG Idea Challenge Theme: Marsboreal greenhouse design

Potential human missions to the Martian surface in the 2030s will require systems for effective food production. Access to fresh food will promote crew health and greatly reduce the logistics requirements to support crews on the long surface stays required for a Mars mission.

In 2016/2017, the Mars Ice Home feasibility study developed a cost-effective inflatable habitat concept that provides the large flexible workspace needed for an early Martian outpost. A key innovation of the Mars Ice Home design is the utilization of ISRU-derived water ice as shielding from Galactic Cosmic Rays. This type of high energy radiation poses a serious health risk to crews living and working on the surface of Mars. The Mars Ice Home design can be adapted for use as a greenhouse to support an early Mars mission.

NASA has funded many crop cultivation/food production studies to support astronauts in space and now we need to develop an effective greenhouse design that can support an early Martian outpost. This is a multi-disciplinary systems engineering effort that will incorporate information from the many studies done earlier and develop an overall systems approach for a credible greenhouse on Mars.

This solicitation seeks innovations in the design, installation, and sustainable operation of a Mars greenhouse. The Mars greenhouse should complement the unique design of the Mars Ice Home and adapt some of the innovative features for a “greenhouse” to help support a crew of 4 on a 600-day surface mission. This greenhouse design should 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 (ISRU). The designs should indicate the potential optimization and efficiencies to use plants for food production and also for supporting Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS). Designers must consider ease of fabrication, ease of deployment, technology readiness, and operations in Martian environments in their designs. Designs should propose a habitat size, form, and 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 primary purpose of this greenhouse will be food production. Designs should size the habitat based on (and provide information on) their crop and growth systems choices.


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