Someday we will travel to Mars. Once we get there, our survival will be in no small part because of the efforts of future engineers like Shyamal A. Patel who are working to design plant growth systems in space.
Shyamal Patel (Sam) recently won the Best Individual Research Presentation for his project at the Undergraduate Research Discovery Day at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where he is currently a senior studying Aerospace Engineering. He has interned at Northrup Grumman, NASA, Boeing, Masten Space Systems, and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).
CO2Meter: What is your project called? What were your goals?
Sam: It’s called Project XGEN: Aeroponic Experiment Using Microcontroller Administered Nutrients and Lighting. The goal was to design and fabricate an aeroponic bioregeneration system and collect data on oxygen production, carbon dioxide reduction, and food production. Along with this, the system should be automated with little interference by the researcher.
CO2Meter: What are the benefits of this kind of research?
Sam: For a long duration mission, for example going to Mars, new breakthroughs must be achieved in life support systems, primarily environmental control. Oxygen production and carbon dioxide reduction is a crucial step in creating a livable atmosphere. On Earth, terrestrial plants and algae control the environment. The same can be done in space. This experiment is meant to collect data for future long duration space exploration missions and to create a mathematical model for planning such missions.
CO2Meter: What results did you achieve?
Sam: So far, project XGEN is capable of growing a strawberry plant in aeroponic conditions. The automated systems are still being programmed, and empirical data is being compiled by the control mechanism to create proper automated functions. Not only is the plant surviving, but flowers and strawberries are now growing.
CO2Meter: What got you interested in this project?
Sam: I have always been interested in farming primarily because of my grandfather. However, while becoming an aerospace engineer, farming and space exploration never linked until I learned about aeroponics.
CO2Meter: How were our sensors used in the experiment?
Sam: Both the K30 CO2 Sensor and the TR250Z Oxygen sensors were used. Many other sensors were used but the main data for research comes from the oxygen and carbon dioxide sensors. The goal is to collect data on oxygen production and carbon dioxide reduction from the plant growing inside of the chamber.
CO2Meter: What are your future plans?
Sam: I plan to work for SpaceX as an engineer after I graduate. I would like to incorporate the knowledge I am learning with this project for life support systems in space capsules and long duration space exploration missions.