Catching Up with GreenSat

Ben Koschnick accepting the prize for "Most Inovative" on stage at the UNSW Engineering Society Pitch Fair.
Winning the "Most Innovative" award at the UNSW Engineering Society Pitch Fair

Recently, GreenSat was offered the opportunity to pitch our project at the project and pitch fair 2018, where we won Most Innovative pitch. This is just one of the many events that have happened at GreenSat in the last 12 months. This week, we will go through everything that has happened including the IAC, payload design, our quest for lab space and more!

Ben Koschnick accepting the prize for "Most Inovative" on stage at the UNSW Engineering Society Pitch Fair.
Winning the “Most Innovative” award at the UNSW Engineering Society Pitch Fair.

GreenSat Who?

For those who have never heard of us before, GreenSat is a program designed to develop the methods and technologies to grow food and other supplies such as medicine in the conditions of orbit or an alien planet. With the limitations of size, mass and power available on a nanosatellite we will be forced to simplify, streamline, refine the art of agriculture in space.

What sets us apart from similar research is the development of agricultural microorganisms adapted to the environment to reduce the engineering requirements. We will achieve this through experimentation with existing organisms and bioengineering new traits specific to these conditions. Already we have plans to begin our first laboratory experiments this semester on nitrogen fixing bacteria. A prototype satellite payload will follow soon after, with our first functioning payload operational by the end of the year.

Payload Design

In the latter half of 2017, we began design work on the first prototype payload for the GreenSat, imaginatively named Mk1. This prototype was designed to be able to handle small 30mm petri dishes. The Mk1 could control the internal pressure and feed nutrients onto the sample to extend the experiement’s lifetime. Twelve separate dishes meant we could take 12 separate experiments to provide a range of solutions or repetition of results.

This payload was finalized and imported into CAD in time for the IAC (check out our daily blogs, starting here) where we presented the concept to an international audience of space scientists and engineers. However, the Mk1 was never built, instead we took the incredible feedback we got and got to work on a new concept, readdressing the problems we thought would be important to reduce the size and complexity.

Such was born the Mk2. This concept will remove the petri dishes in favour of something even smaller. Each sample container will be 5-10mm across and completely sealed. Hopefully, we will be able to grow small amounts of bacteria for an extended period of time using only the materials inside the container without the need for pressure control or a nutrition input. Design is still in it’s early conceptual stage, with a team led by Taofiq building the sensor suite to test separately. The payload is scheduled to be delivered by the end of the year.

Experiments with Cyanobacteria

There is only one thing harder than rocket science, and that is government certification. To achieve a successful experiment will require many ground experiments which must be performed in a PC2 biosciences lab. Thankfully such labs exist on campus and we have always intended to make use of them. Through the tireless efforts of Scarlett and Dr Brendon Burns, we have finally been approved to go through the rigorous safety induction process to get our very own lab space.

To support our biology team, we have been working on designing and building equipment that will allow us to perform experiments on the effects illumination and temperature. These experiments will allow us to more firmly grasp the engineering requirements on the GreenSat payload and design our CubeSat accordingly

With the help of our friend for Flinders University, we were able to design a “Dark Box” to test the bacteria’s response to varying wavelengths and intensities of light. This will allow us to minimise the power input required to illuminate the samples whilst also maximising the growth curves of the sample. Presently Nathan and his team are designing the “Hot Box”, a thermal incubator that will allow us to measure the effect of temperature on the sample. This is particularly important and thermal control is a power-hungry process that may not be possible on a CubeSat, forcing us to design the satellite with that in mind.

Closing Remarks

In 2017, GreenSat has evolved from a loose, barely defined idea into the winner of the Most Innovative project in UNSW. Now 2018 is gearing up to become a year of physical progress, with our team working in the labs and in the workshop to bring GreenSat to life. If you are interested, make sure you follow this link to join us or simply send an email our way.

Students from BLUEsat UNSW's GreenSat Team in the Engineering Design Studio.