NASA STTR 2018-I Solicitation

Proposal Summary

 18-1- T7.02-6802
 Space Exploration Plant Growth
 Hydroponic Rego-rock Produced In-Space for Efficient and Healthy Crop Growth
Name:   Nanosonic, Inc.
Name:   Virginia Tech
Street:  158 Wheatland Drive
Street:  403 Durham Hall
City:   Pembroke
City:   Blacksburg
State/Zip:  VA  24136-3645
State/Zip:   VA 24061 - 0000
Phone:  (540) 953-1785
Phone:   (540) 231-1346

Principal Investigator (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Jennifer Lalli
158 Wheatland Drive Pembroke, VA 24136 - 3645
(540) 626-6266

Business Official (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Melissa Campbell
158 Wheatland Drive Pembroke, VA 24136 - 3645
(540) 626-6266
Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 3
End: 5
Technical Abstract

In support of NASA's goals for efficient plant growth in Space, NanoSonic offers an inert polymeric binding system to make use of Mars surface regolith as a safe, structural, growth media for passive hydroponically grown plants.  Importantly, the proposed multi-functional binding agent will be combined with regolith to: 1) form a porous support structure with an optimal air-to-water ratio for enhanced water/nutrient retention, 2) result in a high cation exchange media for long-term availability and uptake of mineral nutrients to the plants, while precluding anionic perchlorate sorption, and 3) chemically reduce regolith-containing perchlorate compounds to non-toxic TiO2 crystallites.  This low weight, low volume pelletized binding system will take advantage of surface structure available on Mars that cannot be used alone in its current perchlorate laden form, and thereby reduce the amount of growth media and fertilizer required in transit to Space.  During this program, NanoSonic shall produce prototype "Rego-rock", based on our innovative polymer structural reinforcement system for Mars-like regolith.  We have teamed with water purification and hydroponic plant experts at Virginia Tech (VT) and Groundworks to demonstrate soil-less growth of non-toxic nutrient rich plants with our innovative Rego-rock.  Specifically, Dr. Jason He, VT's Director of Center for Applied Water Research and Innovation (CAWRI), shall characterize water flux, uptake, and purity of Rego-Rock tested in forward osmosis units to assess lifetime and potential for re-usability after cleaning.  Groundworks will grow plants hydroponically within Rego-rock alongside unmodified Mars-like regolith and a commercial growth media to yield produce for toxicology and quantify anticipated enhanced growth rate and yield.

Potential NASA Applications

NanoSonic shall develop an innovative polymeric binding agent that will enable Mars surface regolith as a safe and efficient grow media for hydroponic produce grown on Mars.  The binding agent will remove toxic perchlorate compounds from Mars regolith rendering it a suitable substrate to reduce the amount of prepackaged food, plant seeds, and fertilizer needed in transit and during astronauts stay at the Red Planet.  Our initial customer will be NASA in support of the Veggie program. 

Potential Non-NASA Applications

NanoSonic's methods to render Mars regolith a suitable growth media shall also advanced the state-of-the-art in commercial terrestrial grow media.  Rego-rock technology shall enhance the cation exchange capacity of the growth media which will allow for the long-term uptake of nutrients.  The enhanced porosity will allow for an optimal air-to-water ratio.  Additional markets for the Rego-rock technology is in the terrestrial hydroponics markets as well as agriculture, stormwater, and wastewater. 

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