Towards food production in space missions: engineering the hydroponic system of the plant growth unit

Carlo A. Conti, Lorenzo Bucchieri

EnginSoft SpA

Within MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) program, which supports food production in long term manned space mission, HySSE (Hydroponic SubSystem Engineering) project has the intent to contribute with the development of a nutrient feeding equipment for the growth of higher plants. Initially, different nutrient delivery strategies were evaluated on the basis of system’s specifications (e.g., sealing easiness, homogeneous nutritional conditions).

Through a trade-off analysis, a hybrid solution involving a deep water culture with a variable level was selected. Furthermore, a parametric model of the gully was developed and supported by CFD simulations.

Sensors actuators P&ID of the system was designed and control laws were developed and implemented. Hence a breadboard was manufactured and crop tests were performed: the system was proven to be suitable for crop production.

In conclusion, engineering approaches were applied to the design of the hydraulic part of the plant growth unit.

A completely sealed environment between root and leaf zones was implemented, allowing characterization of the rhizosphere in standalone mode.