UH students test award-winning growing system at NASA habitat

Local News

Students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducted a successful test of their automated hydroponic growing system called Box Farm at the NASA habitat located at the University of North Dakota.

This Box Farm was tested at the NASA-funded Inflatable Lunar-Mars Habitat at UND.

One of the five modules in the habitat contains a lab for conducting experiments on growing plants to supplement the diet of space explorers.

The team had four senior UH Manoa mechanical engineering students: Gabor Paczolay, Preston Tran, James Thesken and Sean Agpaoa

They were in North Dakota May 16-24, 2019.

Their goal was to cut down on the time researchers spend tending to plants in space. 

The University of North Dakota says raising and tending to plants is expensive and can occupy up to 60 percent of a crew’s time. 

The Box Farm can also help to advance autonomous greenhouses for food sustainability on Earth.

The proof-of-concept testing showed the individual tasks that Box Farm could do within the NASA habitat environment. 

The robotic plant growing module can be scaled up to take care of hundreds of plants, essentially automating the entire growing process.

Team members say they are starting a company to commercialize agricultural technologies.

The Box Farm team won first place at the UH Manoa College of Engineering Francis J. Rhodes Montgomery innovation competition in April.

The students’ research focused on robotics, image processing, sensor systems, botany, interplanetary communication and autonomy. 

They also designed and printed custom planters in 3-D for the Box Farm system.

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