NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 B3.07-9224
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Biomass Production for Planetary Missions
PROPOSAL TITLE: High Efficiency Lighting with Integrated Adaptive Control (HELIAC

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Orbital Technologies Corp
Space Center, 1212 Fourier Drive
Madison, WI 53717-1961

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Jeffery C. Emmerich
1212 Fourier Drive
Madison, WI 53717-1961

The innovation of the proposed project is the development of High Efficiency Lighting with Integrated Adaptive Control (HELIAC) systems to drive plant growth. Solar radiation is not a viable option for growing plants on the moon or on Mars for multiple reasons. On the other hand, lighting plants with electric lamps and rejecting the associated waste heat has energy costs that have driven NASA toward other options to provide food and fresh air to future Mars crews. The solution offered by this project improves upon the efficiency of a novel new light-distribution technology involving low-power, solid-state sources that emit specific-wavelength photons to match plant photoreceptors. The HELIAC lighting system consists of small individual "light engines" that provide a level of control precision far in excess of standard lamps. This precision enables lamp configuration to be adapted to species specific growth habits so that photons can be absorbed efficiently by all available photosynthetic tissues. HELIAC will also provide the capability to adapt spectral balance automatically to plant development stage. Finally, it will have the capability to automatically detect the proximity of plant tissue and power only adjacent light engines, thereby greatly decreasing power requirements, particularly during early plant development.

The production of edible biomass in closed or nearly-closed environments is essential for the future of long-term planetary exploration and human settlement on the moon or Mars. The proposed lighting system is well suited for use in large space-based applications. In addition to the potential for significant power savings over existing lighting systems, the use of solid-state lighting eliminates problems associated with traditional lighting in closed systems such as short operational life (requiring resupply), high mass and volume, limited control options, and safety concerns including high temperatures, glass envelopes, and toxic materials.

Controlled-environment agriculture profitability often is most limited by energy costs. Dense crop stands block overhead light from reaching the majority of lower leaves in closed foliar canopies, thereby compromising yield and requiring high light levels that are not absorbed efficiently. Light-distribution systems that are low power, relatively cool, that uniformly irradiate all leaves within a stand only with wavelengths most efficiently absorbed by photosynthetic tissue, and that 0automatically adjust emissions to target new tissues as plants grow in height or spread without wasting photons by lighting empty space will substantially lower energy costs of controlled-environment production and will improve profitability.