Alain Berinstain, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and University of Guelph, Principal Investigator, Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse
Our research team arrived at camp on July 7 to begin an ambitious season of maintenance and improvements to the Greenhouse systems. This year, the research team consists of myself, Richard Giroux (Visiting Fellow at CSA), Matthew Bamsey (PhD candidate at the University of Guelph and CSA), Philip Neron (co-op student at CSA from Ecole de technologie superieure), Thomas Graham (PhD candidate at the University of Guelph), Anna-Lisa Paul and Rob Ferl from the University of Florida at Gainesville, and Stephen Braham from Simon Fraser University.
As we prepare to explore the Solar System once again with humans to the moon and eventually to Mars, it is clear that extended stays will require some form of biological life support, in order to decrease the amount of food, water, and air launched from Earth to keep the crews healthy. Plants in greenhouses might play a part in this closed biological life support system, by cleaning the air and water that astronauts will use, and also by providing food for them. These greenhouses will have to operate autonomously, to decrease the work required to tend the crops by astronauts, and also to increase the safety and reliability of the overall system. The systems being developed in the Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse are prototypes of some of the systems that may one day be launched to the moon or Mars.
Our autonomous greenhouse in the Arctic produces and manages its own power, has its own communications system for command and telemetry, and a robust data acquisition and control system for making measurements and maintaining the environment in the greenhouse. This project began in 2002 and every year we improve the systems and make them more reliable and more robust. This past winter was the first winter where our systems survived the winter and were operational when we arrived at camp. As usual, we learned a lot this past year to help plan for an even more robust system in the future.
This year's activities are focusing on increasing robustness and increasing our diagnostic capabilities. We are making improvements to the redundancy in the power generation system by having loads shared between power supplies. The biggest job this year is to replace the data acquisition system with a system that is rated to function at lower temperatures than the former system. We are taking advantage of this major overhaul to rewire most systems and route wires bundles along common paths. There are many sensors in the greenhouse, this means a lot of wires. We are also increasing redundancy in the system by adding a second MSAT ground station to the greenhouse. We have reviewed and created new operational modes that will allow us to "stay alive" at minimum power levels during the coldest, darkest times of the long winter. During these long winters we only generate power with our wind generators, because our solar panels are not useful since the sun does not rise for over 3 months in the winter on Devon Island.
Another major improvement this year is an increase in the camera monitoring capabilities of the system. Last year, we had a total of 3 cameras active (2 internal, one external). This year's improvements will see us going from 3 to 7 cameras (6 internal, one external). The internal camera sits on a gimbal that will allow us to point the camera in any direction. We have learned from the past that camera views need to be more zoomed in on plants instead of pictures of the general area. This year's camera views will all be very small fields of view except for the internal gimbaled camera and the external camera.
Since 2002, we have been mostly preoccupied by the design and engineering aspects of the greenhouse systems, making them more reliable, in order to create a stable environment for plant growth and plant science in this unique greenhouse that mimics the way a greenhouse will operate on the moon or Mars. We are now more confident than ever that we can move our focus from mostly engineering to an ever-increasing amount of science. To that end, this year, we are implementing an actively-controlled nutrient control system that measures the pH and electrical conductivity of the plant nutrient solution and adjusts these parameters as the plants grow and metabolize.
In addition, we are now collaborating with researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville to use the greenhouse environment to begin to grow Arabidopsis plants that can be used to track plant stress by analyzing which genes are expressed in the system. We are also going to be growing some test plants within an enclosure that can photograph the fluorescence (a green-colored light) that is given off under different conditions. Additional goals include being able to teleoperate this enclosure from our home laboratories after we leave Devon Island.
Half-way through our two-week stay on Devon, all is progressing well due to impressive good planning by the students and post-doctoral fellow involved in this project. The plan is ambitious, but all new systems have first been tested in our development greenhouse at CSA in Montreal (we call this greenhouse "the analogue for the analogue"). We will shortly begin our operational phase and be present for the first few days of operation to monitor and diagnose and fix any bugs that may surface.
An ambitious plan, a robust system, a motivated and professional team, and a successful season so far. Our research project continues to go well and we continue to learn many lessons that are helpful for preparing for the exploration of the moon and Mars by humans, and, in addition, we are developing technologies and ways of working that can also help the greenhouse industry on Earth.
About the Mars Institute's Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse
The Haughton-Mars Project (HMP)'s Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse (ACMG) was donated by SpaceRef Interactive, Inc. and established at the HMP Base Camp (now HMP Research Station) with initial sponsorship support from NASA. The ACMG facility is currently managed and operated by the Mars Institute, in partnership with the SETI Institute and Simon Fraser University. Dr. Alain Berinstain of the
Canadian Space Agency and the University of Guelph is the current Principal Investigator in the ACMG. The ongoing investigation is supported by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Guelph, Simon Fraser University, and the SETI Institute.
New Images of the Arthur Clarke Mars Greenhouse
The new setup for some of the plant monitoring cameras.
The new nutrient control system.
Richard Giroux working on the new data acquisition system.
Setting up the fall growth tray with the camera at canopy level.
An external view of the greenhouse.
The new gimbal-mounted internal monitoring camera.
Matt Bamsey programming the gimbal mount.
It is cold in the arctic even in the summer, sometimes
we even need to be working on the computer with gloves on!
Radish plant seedlings before we transplant them to the growth trays.
Radish plants transplanted to the growth tray.
The green fluoresent protein monitoring equipment from the University of Florida.
Some of the greenhouse team working in the greenhouse.
A view of the inside of the new CSA tent, where we have desks to work at.