Project Contact: Dr. Hope Hui Rising, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization
Project Title: Prototyping Blue-Green Infrastructure as Complex Adaptive Systems for Space Habitats
- Dr. Hope Hui Rising, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization, email@example.com
- Dr. Paul de Figueiredo, Associate Professor, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis & Immunology, College of Medicine, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Arum Han, Professor, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, College of Engineering, email@example.com
- Dr. Manoranjan Majji, Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Robert Brown, Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization, email@example.com
- Dr. Bruce Dvorak, Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, College of Architecture & Visualization, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Mengmeng Gu, Professor, Department of Horticultural Sciences & AgriLife Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, email@example.com
- Dr. William Pinchak, Professor, Department of, Ecosystem Science & Management & AgriLife at Vernon, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org
Aerospace Engineering, Ecosystem Science & Management & AgriLife at Vernon, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Horticultural Sciences & AgriLife Extension, Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, Microbial Pathogenesis & Immunology
Agriculture & Life Sciences, Architecture & Visualization, Engineering, Medicine
The extreme space weather events are likely to create space-like adverse living conditions on Earth before 2025 to necessitate the expedited development and deployment of self-regenerative, closed-loop life-support systems on Earth or in the outer space to maximize water, food, and energy security and wellbeing while minimizing outputs of wastes and exhaust heat and input of sources and energy. To this end, the Space Habitat Design Challenge will combine participatory and evidence-based approaches to enable faculty, students, and external partners to collaborate in prototyping the building blocks of long-term space planetary and transit habitats using the artificial gravity and the skyframe technologies developed by the aerospace engineering faculty at the Texas A&M University. The results of the Space Habitat Design Challenge will be amplified through additional efforts within and beyond 2021-2022, such as entering the EPA Planet, People, Prosperity Competition in addition to conducting pilot data collection and analysis, manuscript development for peer-review journals, and/or proposal writing for future external and internal grants.
In 2020, the Earth transitioned from an 11-year cycle of solar minimum to another 11-year cycle of solar maximum. The intensity and frequency of solar activities are going to increase until 2025 during the first half of the solar maximum cycle. This will lead to more sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) above the Arctic to destabilize the polar vortex. The resultant arctic blasts can threaten water, food, energy, material, and thermal security in regions unprepared for freezing conditions. In addition, all the ice on Earth can potentially melt at once to increase the sea level by 217 feet when more intense and frequent solar storms impact the Earth. The impacts of solar storms will become more severe because the magnetic field (that protects the Earth from solar radiation) has been weakening at an alarming rate. The rapid reduction of the Earth’s magnetic field suggests that a magnetic polar reversal is overdue. Polar reversal can cause large-scale tidal waves to inundate most of the eastern half of the United States. This can result in widespread contamination of water, land, and air due to underground sewer backing up into basements and streets and flood-induced explosions at nuclear plants, petrochemical refineries, chemical plants, and oil and gas pipelines. Solar storms can also incapacitate global power grids, radio communications, and global positioning systems (GPS) to lead to power outage from weeks to months and the associated interruptions in potable and waste water distribution systems, heating and cooling systems, food refrigeration systems, life-support systems in medical facilities, gas stations, cellphone service, and transportation. It is currently difficult to predict the seasonal variations of solar eruptions and the spatial distributions of their resultant catastrophic terrestrial events until the increased activities can be observed in the sun about a few days before the solar activities take place.
As space weather events result in increasingly more space-like adverse living conditions on Earth, there is a pressing need to build our capacities to evacuate timely and relocate proactively to circumvent the impacts of these events. The invention of artificial gravity has drastically upscaled space habitats to enable 9000 to a million people to be relocated from space weather impact zones at once to space planetary surface habitats deployed in flood-resilient locations on Earth and in the outer space. However, mass productions of large space habitats have been cost-prohibitive because space habitats have often required external resources and mechanical systems to provide water, food, energy, materials, and environmental control without harmful growth of microorganisms for astronauts and space equipment. Space habitats cannot become environmentally, economically, and socially viable long-term life support systems for widespread applications until an effective landscape approach can be developed to integrate microorganisms into ecosystem service providers (ESPs) to create self-sustaining and cost-effective water, food, energy, material, and microclimate systems.
Our first project goal is to develop a modular landscape approach that maximizes system- and component-level production of natural (NESs) and cultural ecosystem services (CESs) from microbial ESPs as building blocks of a space habitat. The objectives for the first project goal are to identify parameters of ESPs to be optimized to effectively 1) transform domestic wastewater into reusable water, nutrient, energy, food, and materials (NESs); 2) maintain a healthy microbiome (NES); 3) facilitate thermal comfort (CES); and 4) increase inhabitants’ attachment to and willingness to finance and maintain these ESPs (CESs). Compared to centralized infrastructure, decentralized infrastructure is more suitable for space habitats due to its scalability and more fail-safe nature. Yet, the intense maintenance needs of decentralized landscape infrastructure require private financing and stewardship associated with users’ functional, emotional, and cognitive dependence on ESPs as loci of place attachment.
The project will target the following four microbial ESPs as potential building blocks of space habitats: 1) blue modules (microbial fuel cells (MFC) in wastewater); 2) green modules (rhizodeposition-based MFCs); 3) blue-green modules (MFCs with wetland plants partially submerged by wastewater); and 4) green-blue modules (MFCs both within the elevated growing medium and the subsurface wastewater with exposed wetland plant roots). The bio-electricity from MFCs can help power a fan to move the warmer ambient air into the cooler subsurface chamber to help keep relative humidity (RH) above the chamber below 60% to minimize harmful growth of microorganisms. The subsurface chamber condensates the incoming warmer air into reusable water to provide water to humans, protein-rich plants, and algae for fish to offset the loss of water to evapotranspiration while keeping RH in the chamber cavity between 70% and 80% for growing fungal mycelium as a source of 3D-printable material. For the green and green-blue modules, the heat produced by MFCs helps minimize surface moisture buildup on soil, plants, and other surfaces to mitigate microbial growth while making air from green and green-blue modules warmer and dryer compared to the blue and blue-green modules with greater evaporative cooling effects.
Our second project goal is to make space habitat design science actionable with and for society to accelerate humanity’s preparedness for extreme space weather events and readiness for interplanetary migration. The objectives of the second project goals are to 1) provide hands-on education on space habitat design to students; 2) design space habitats through interdisciplinary collaboration; 3) develop a proof of concept; and 4) collect and leverage pilot data for broader impacts and external funding. For objectives one and two, we will issue a call for participation in a space habitat design challenge to invite faculty and students from around the campus to participate in three three-hour geodesign games each semester. The results of the literature review from project goal one will be used to inform the briefing materials and game cards used by the geodesign games. For objectives three and four, the project faculty team will work with 10 undergraduate student leaders with the most relevant backgrounds among the design game participants, applicants from the Aggie Research Program, and the student networks affiliated with our faculty team leaders and members. The faculty team will also identify relevant thesis and dissertation topics for interested graduate students to pursue. The select group of undergraduate and graduate students will work with the faculty team to develop a prototype demo and collect pilot data in support of applications and proposals for external funding.
The students recruited by the faculty team will work with the faculty within their subject areas as the main advisors and other faculty as secondary advisors. The faculty and student team will generate literature review publications, build one prototype demo, and collect pilot data to support external funding proposals. Project goal one will result in two literature review publications on optimizing the microbial ESPs as components and systems to maximize the production of NESs and CESs. Specifically, the publications are intended to 1) inform the design of future controlled greenhouse and field experiments to maximize the production of NESs; and 2) identify hypotheses of component and network configurations that maximize space habitats’ production of CESs, such as microclimatic and social performances. Project goal two will lead to a third publication on the effectiveness of the space habitat design games as open innovation systems that facilitate the inflows and outflows of ideas and information within and across the design, automation, microbial, engineering, and ecological components of the project. The manuscript will also evaluate the extent to which within-team disciplinary diversity contributes to the between-team coherence of outcomes to help converge team outcomes into consensus-based frameworks with fewer geodesign games. The evaluation will be submitted as pilot data for external funding proposals on testing design games as complex adaptive decision-making systems for solving complex problems. Finally, the team will develop a prototype demo and collect pilot data to demonstrate technical and financial feasibility for future funding proposals. The invited student leaders will also submit an application for the EPA People, Prosperity, and Planet (P3) Student Competition with a plan to develop the demo into a more refined prototype for implementation in a real-world setting.
Benefit to Students:
The participating students will gain hands-on education on different aspects of space habitat design through the design games, including closed-loop systems, the nexus of food, energy, and water, microclimatic design, and the interactions between microbiomes, water, plants, animals, and humans. In addition, they will contribute to publications and proposals and develop teamwork and leadership skills in interdisciplinary settings. Specifically, the students will learn how to situate discipline-specific research topics within the context of convergent research using complex adaptive system as a framework. They will learn how their home discipline makes decisions and interacts with other disciplines to result in the emergence of interdisciplinary synergies that are greater than the sum of individual disciplines. The students will also develop their capacities to bridge convergent with translational research to help solve complex wicked problems. For the graduate students, they will be exposed to a wide range of skills brought by the faculty team, including human energy budget modeling, experimental designs for controlled lab research and field research, microbial analysis of water, soil, and air, prototyping microbial fuel cell modules, measuring NESs and CESs, quantifying the environmental impacts of plant components, and developing adaptive systems with computer vision, smart sensors, robotics, machine learning, and integration with the weather stations and microclimatic data.
What process or guidelines will determine which students are being paid (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and which aren’t, along with estimates of amounts and methods (hourly, end of semester, etc.).
The ideal team will be composed of sufficient faculty and student expertise around design, automation, microbial, engineering, and ecological systems as focus areas to be integrated. The design group will have majors from the College of Architecture, including Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Construction Sciences, and Visualization. The engineering group will have majors from the College of Engineering, including Electrical and Computer Engineering, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biological Engineering. The design and engineering groups will focus on reshaping their disciplines to function synergistically with microbial ecosystem service providers to contribute to a self-regulating microclimate system within a closed-loop context. The microbial group will investigate strategies for minimizing harms from microbial activities and for maximizing the NESs coproduced by blue-green infrastructure modules and microbes through analyzing the microbial activities in water, air, and soil. The ecological group will study the synergistic interactions of microbes with ecological systems to influence the wellbeing of humans, plants, and animals to provide water, food, energy, material, and energy security. The automation group will integrate all elements from the design, engineering, microbial, and ecological groups into a complex adaptive system through automating feedback loops between groups to respond to weather station data and microclimatic sensors.
A minimum of 10 undergraduate students with two in each focus area group will be selected as student leaders. The student leaders will be required to participate in six three-hour space habitat design games on 09/11/2021, 10/16/2021, 11/13/2021, 01/15/2022, 02/12/2022, and 03/12/2022. The student leaders will also work closely with the faculty team to conduct literature reviews, build a prototype demo, collect pilot data, and/or develop funding proposals. Among the 10 student leaders, four will be recruited as hourly student workers at 10 hours per week for two semesters. Their payments may be presented as a scholarship allocated to them at the competition of two semesters to ensure that the students have completed all relevant tasks for two semesters. The four student leaders will co-manage the design and participation aspects of the projects with Dr. Rising and the technical and system integration aspects with Dr. Majji. The other six student leaders will be composed of two from the each of the following three colleges: College of Medicine, College of Engineering, and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Each of the six student leaders will receive a scholarship of $200 at the end of the two semesters to attend six design games as a team leader. The student leaders will be supervised by faculty from their respective disciplines.
We will encourage at least 10 graduate student leaders, two from each focus group, to attend the space habitat design games to inspire them to take on relevant topics for their capstone projects, theses, and dissertations under the guidance of their respective faculty team advisors. The two undergraduate and graduate leaders for each focus area group will conduct one design game with faculty and students from similar disciplines after each space habitat design game to facilitate vertical integration that deepens each focus area. They will bring the results of the vertical integration back to the subsequent space habitat design game to facilitate horizontal integration with student leaders and faculty from other focus area groups. All student leaders and project faculty will attend all six design games to coordinate their efforts from various focus area groups. Additional students will be recruited through the call for participation in the space habitat design games and the Aggie Research Program and managed by the student leaders and project faculty. They will also participate in the design games and may elect to continue to work on the project beyond the design games. If any of the student leaders would like to donate their scholarship or hourly wage to enable the project to reach out to more faculty and students from other units not originally identified in the proposal, we will redirect their payments. The final list of students to be compensated as hourly workers and scholarship recipients.
Will the project require travel?
Read the Full Proposal