FARMM started as a dedicated agri-robotics project, developing an autonomous robot to assist in the MDRS Greenhab. Now it’s grown to a live discussion of all aspects of space agriculture and botany – from the broad requirements of integrated ecosystems, to the detailed design of 21st-century plant growing systems, to the sociological implications of humans coexisting with food crops in space. Unlike many such community projects, the FARMM team looks forward to massive-scale operations that will be needed to feed thousands of people living on space stations or planetary bases. Whether your interest is robotics and embedded systems, botany and plant science, or even culinary – the FARMM team is always discussing the next steps of plants beyond Earth.

Recent Discord Chat

A Jazz God May 14, 2022 @ 5:42pm
Well there goes that idea
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:34pm
Ok, here's my calculation - solar tubing, maybe with a few layers of high-transparency glass or plastic, let's say Lexan polycarb, is 89% at 3mm thickness. Maybe 3 layers of that thickness gives 70% transmission. Add on reflectivity losses from the pipe and it could be anywhere between (guesswork) 65% and 50%. Higher end uses total internal reflection from a high-quality glass but is also hella heavy - reflectance of concentrated solar mirrors used for power generation is on the order of 95%, let's say 90% accounting for dirt buildup - there would have to be some kind of "light splitter" at the end which distributes the light. Either a lense or a mirror assembly. Arbitrarily, 75% efficiency between absorption in the optics and the support structures. End-to-end efficiency of about 35% In comparison, good quality multi-junction solar cells are 35% efficiency and LEDs are about the same efficiency. So end-to-end efficiency is way way down, just 12%
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:19pm
But then again, solar concentrating mirrors are cheaper and more efficient than solar panels
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:19pm
I'd guess it would be hard to get enough collector area to be worthwhile, since you need roughly the same collector area as you have total growing area
A Jazz God May 14, 2022 @ 5:19pm
Shouldn't be too hard. I could probably just see how well a plant grows in a cardboard box lit exclusively using one of those diy soda bottle solar tubes
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:17pm
I've seen it proposed a lot but never found decent data - guess someone's going to have to build it
A Jazz God May 14, 2022 @ 5:16pm
though I wonder how effective solar tubes are for plant growing
A Jazz God May 14, 2022 @ 5:16pm
In that case you could probably reduce the electricity cost from lighting using solar tubing
A Jazz God May 14, 2022 @ 5:13pm
My idea didn't really use rails, it was a freely moving robot on wheels that could move up and down on a scissor lift
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:04pm
I've worked alongside teams doing a similar thing for large vertical farms in the UK, rail-running robots that zip along taking air quality and NVDI images of the crops
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:04pm
The exact nature of the best robot for that depends on the structure of the stack itself but I'm rather a fan of "tram track" type systems that hang between two rails. Put a 5-axis arm on that and you've got a decent radius of motion so the rails don't have to be too close together. Only challenge is how to move up and down between levels
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:01pm
But at that point, if you have so much mechanical support around - just make a robot that runs directly on the supports for the "ceiling" of each layer in the stack
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 5:00pm
I've thought about this a lot actually. Current iteration no, the lack of height-changing gantry means the robot is fixed to running in fairly tall spaces. You could definitely have a "lift" or ratchet system to move the bot between levels
Ross (/u/_albertross) May 14, 2022 @ 4:59pm
If you're already growing with artificial lighting then no (it can even be more efficient if you're clever with the water and air circulation systems). But lighting takes on the order of hundreds of watts of electricity per square metre plus the systems to cool the lamps which outweighs anything else by orders of magnitude
rough93 May 12, 2022 @ 11:18am
A Jazz God May 12, 2022 @ 2:22am
Also somebody tell me what FARMM stands for, otherwise my first thought is going to keep being "why is farm spelled wrong"
A Jazz God May 12, 2022 @ 2:07am
I've also heard that automated vertical farming is rather power intensive.
Tech_And_Sci May 11, 2022 @ 7:49pm
From what I remember, an automated vertical farm also uses less water in the long run along with increased food output compared to traditional farms
A Jazz God May 11, 2022 @ 7:44pm
At least when it comes to saving space. My concern is that the farmbot model isn't made with vertical farming in mind. Coincidentally I worked with a guy to put something that could handle that together back in the winter, but we split up over creative differences and never finished the thing
Tech_And_Sci May 11, 2022 @ 7:25pm
Wouldn't layered vertical farms be more efficient overall?
A Jazz God May 11, 2022 @ 5:42pm
Mostly just poking around, for potential machine assisted farming similar to the farmbot design, do you plan to make use of layered vertical farms?
rough93 May 3, 2022 @ 12:20pm
Eclipse Now April 30, 2022 @ 11:21pm
I guys I'm back for a moment. Just a disclaimer - I'm not in biological sciences like you guys - and am more of an online hobbyist / activist for space and various environmental causes. My low expertise in any one area means my attention drifts and I wander off into other areas, reading the Executive Summaries of different ideas rather than delving into the details. Which is why I was quoting The Guardian and Wikipedia above when introducing the idea of Solein / Solar Foods here, rather than the latest NASA paper. However, it was gratifying to see some experts above doing a double-take on this concept - and then execute some awesome deep dives into it that I cannot possibly contemplate. The reason I'm back? I just wanted to share this short 1 minute video that shows how YUMMY some of this Solein hydrogen-grown goo can be when processed by the food techs. Check this out. The buns, "meat", and mayonnaise are all SOLEIN. The only things *grown* with old-fashioned *photosynthesis* here are the salad ingredients - (and I think I saw some sugar going into the dough for the buns. They say they're working on all the carbs we could need from Solein - any bugs out there that taste sweet to replace sugar-cane farming?) PS: You guys give me hope for the human race. Seeing such quality expertise donated for free, in a cross-sectoral analysis of the problem of food in space - really gives me hope. This is how old thinking and systems are finally spark-plugged into new systems. Keep it up!
Ross (/u/_albertross) April 29, 2022 @ 9:32pm
Not completely dead - but I'm in the middle of exams so don't have much time to spare for hardware development. I'm optimistic I'll be able to guide @​Cameron (SSAM) through several steps for assembling the robot in a couple of weeks though
alone_coder April 29, 2022 @ 2:38pm
is the project dead? :(
alone_coder April 24, 2022 @ 6:06pm
what are the current results (species, time, energy consumed, calories produced)?
rough93 March 14, 2022 @ 12:56am
Awesome, thanks @​Sam (FARMM) @​codeflight (CHASE) !
codeflight March 14, 2022 @ 12:33am I set it up for you
Ross (/u/_albertross) March 14, 2022 @ 12:19am
@​Cameron (SSAM) Tada!
Ross (/u/_albertross) March 13, 2022 @ 7:09pm
I should be able to get the text done, and pull together some older renders
rough93 March 13, 2022 @ 6:53pm
good luck
rough93 March 13, 2022 @ 6:53pm
no worries, I can draw up a draft if necessary
rough93 March 13, 2022 @ 6:53pm
uh oh
Ross (/u/_albertross) March 13, 2022 @ 6:25pm
Praise the Lord for regular gdrive cad backups
Ross (/u/_albertross) March 13, 2022 @ 6:25pm
Lol might not be able to get everything to you @​Cameron (SSAM)
rough93 March 11, 2022 @ 5:04pm
no problem, I'll follow up Sunday/Monday
Ross (/u/_albertross) March 11, 2022 @ 5:03pm
Damn it slipped off my list, I'll see if I can get an hour this weekend to get a few bits done
rough93 March 11, 2022 @ 5:02pm
Were you able to get a doc together for this yet?
Ross (/u/_albertross) March 3, 2022 @ 11:18pm
Sure thing - I'll try to pull some stuff together
rough93 March 3, 2022 @ 8:31pm
@​Sam (FARMM) I did one for SSAM and can do a general one for MDRS if we both want to be on the same page, but could you also provide the following:
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 24, 2022 @ 10:45am Assembly drawings for the carriages here, the centre one is identical. For the first fit test they should just slide over the rails (see sketch later today hopefully), if they all slide nicely then I'll consider the week a success
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 24, 2022 @ 10:44am
@​Cameron (SSAM) I'll try to get some time to sketch the whole assembly but no hard promises
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 24, 2022 @ 10:43am
Damnit - I'd budgeted in my lab schedule this week, but not the PSU breaking on my CAD rig 😦
rough93 February 23, 2022 @ 8:36pm
I've got the top part together (the three long and two short joined by the 4 corner prints. I need to cut the holes for the other carriages and assemble that all together, but will need that drawing again and some instruction on assembling them onto the bars/whatever extra needs to be done for the center carriage
rough93 February 23, 2022 @ 7:45pm
forgot to ask
rough93 February 23, 2022 @ 7:45pm
@​Sam (FARMM) Do you have assembly instructions?
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 23, 2022 @ 1:02pm
Awesome, that should be all that's needed for the whole robot
rough93 February 23, 2022 @ 12:53pm
8 of these are printed
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 23, 2022 @ 12:52pm
At least 4 of the corner brackets
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 23, 2022 @ 12:52pm 3 of the short rails (X-rail), 3 of the long rails (Y-rails)
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 23, 2022 @ 12:49pm
Will do!
rough93 February 23, 2022 @ 12:48pm
@​Sam (FARMM) I should just about have all your parts done, but to double check can you forward me the drawings and qtys of each you need?
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 19, 2022 @ 5:14pm
I have not actually, I've got enough else on this summer (another paper and a rocket to build!) to fit it in. I'll probably put it into the Mars Society Convention though
rough93 February 19, 2022 @ 5:13pm
@​Sam (FARMM) did you decide to submit an abstract for this?
rough93 February 15, 2022 @ 6:34pm
That sounds like a good plan to me, I'll likely need a pointer or two on the construction, but I'll shoot you pics and then we can proceed from there on finalizing the assembly and getting code uploaded
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 15, 2022 @ 6:21pm
I can ping over some (in theory) plug-and-play FarmBot code, see what errors we get and then decide how much needs rewriting from scratch
rough93 February 15, 2022 @ 6:20pm
I'm looking forward to seeing it too. Since at work next week I'm a bit in limbo while we wait to hear back from the government I'll have a good amount of time to dedicate to getting it working. We can probably do some testing and troubleshooting live on a call when everything is first built
Ross (/u/_albertross) February 15, 2022 @ 6:14pm
Amazing! I've been doing some software modelling work in preparation for the sprint, so I'm keen to get the embedded systems up and running so testing can commence. In theory, we should have enough hardware for static 2-axis testing
rough93 February 15, 2022 @ 6:05pm
@​Sam (FARMM) I'm in another state this week but once I'm back this weekend/monday I'll have the finished parts done with the images sent to you so you can proceed here. That should allow you to conduct the sprint here with the team. On another note, the CUSF part is in the hands of my coworker to hand off to me at a conference on Thursday, and I'll try to get it shipped out Friday.
Betamaxx January 31, 2022 @ 2:45pm
Super interesting!
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 31, 2022 @ 2:42pm
They *could* be cheaper, at least in one aspect. The power/volume/maintainance is harder to calculate and could tip the balance one way or the other. Bacteria take (according to the paper I posted above) 0.4kg of hydrogen per kg of protein produced. The energy cost of that is about 70MJ/kg. Plus some additional energy for processing and drying of the protein, which the paper estimates at a median value of 110MJ/kg. Volume required is low, about 60 litres (I think that's actually an underestimate, it only accounts for the bioreactor and not the additional processing equipment. As the paper states, equivalent system mass is ~200kg to support 1 crew member for 5 years. To compare, insects can be fed from almost entirely inedible plant scraps ( which would otherwise go to waste. This waste isn't entirely a cost to the system as it can be composted or pyrolysed for chemical production, so it has some inherent value but it's low. Insects have an "efficiency of conversion of ingested food" (dry weight over feed weight) of 10-25%, comparable to chicken on the lower end and several times better than large animals. The useful food:waste ratio of the ELS space diet is about 4.4:1, or 4.2kg of plant waste produced per person day for a useful yield of 1kg. You'd need to process just 15% of that waste with insects to completely handle crew protein needs. Does the removal of 15% of biowaste processing capacity balance the additional mass/volume/power of cultivating a massive number of insects? I have zero clue
Betamaxx January 31, 2022 @ 2:15pm
This blows my mind. I assume you just mean the feed stock is cheaper than SCP because it would otherwise be waste? Does this cost include the living area space, maintenance, and other resource inputs? I could see how they could be cheaper than Algae if you only have artificial lights, but also cheaper than things like the HOB or yeast which require no light? Don't get me wrong, I would way rather eat those than straight algae, but hard to believe they could be cheaper per kg of protein than SCPs.
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 31, 2022 @ 11:41am
Hard to determine values but you it could be the case that a waste-recycling protein generator is providing net value even before you account for the actual output. Waste systems aren't enormous (a few % of total ECLSS mass for a 10-year mission) but it's not nothing. All depends where you put the system boundaries
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 31, 2022 @ 11:39am
Chicken, insects and fish all have the advantage of deriving their mass from a plant waste stream, so they're much "cheaper" to operate compared to single-celled approaches that need their own production chains to produce hydrogen/whatever
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 31, 2022 @ 10:02am
It's also a matter of overall system optimisation - the thing that's very hard to comment on without doing a complete analysis
Orion Lawlor - Alaska January 31, 2022 @ 9:50am
For human food, in the near term I think vat-grown electrofed bacteria (or direct solar algae) are probably going to be inferior to chicken or fish, but for chicken or fish feed it's all about efficiency, where I think vat-grown wins.
bigred January 31, 2022 @ 8:10am
"(we evolved to eat fish)".... woah thats an massive statement.... need some definitive proof of that before its a given 🙂 However it could be accurate to say "there are studies that indicate our digestive system is best suited to softer proteins such as fish" 🙂
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 30, 2022 @ 10:07pm
On the other end is aquaculture and fish, which provide a proper protein balance almost by definition (we evolved to eat fish) but need vastly more complex inputs
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 30, 2022 @ 10:06pm
The one that springs to mind is mix of different food proteins which a bacterium may not provide
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 30, 2022 @ 10:06pm
Now we have the fun question - how much work do we make the biology do? Hydrogen-oxidising bacteria seem the extreme at one end, taking pretty much the simplest chemical input and doing all the synthesis in the cell. That's good - and it what Solar Foods are using - but may not be optimal for every case
Orion Lawlor - Alaska January 30, 2022 @ 8:45pm
Bigred, the low end-to-end efficiency of photosynthesis is extensively documented. Fundamentally, it's because natural systems consume most of their energy fighting entropy to keep their proteins functional, while a solar panel can send that energy as output. (The best biomass-to-energy systems only yield 100s of GJ / hectare / year, while bulk solar yields 1000s of GJ / hectare / year). The trade-off is similar to annual crops vs permaculture, permaculture is more efficient because you don't need to build a root system from scratch every year.
Orion Lawlor - Alaska January 30, 2022 @ 8:40pm
Sam, your "magic atom-rearranging factories" are bacteria! Directly powering those factories with (solar) electricity is absolutely feasible, direct electron uptake has been observed in a variety of microbes and there's a burgeoning field of "microbial electrosynthesis", decent open access survey here:
Betamaxx January 30, 2022 @ 8:30pm
Growing proteins directly without converting to artificial light first sounds great! Kinda sounds like a super yeast. I couldn't read all of that paper, but found a similar paper from 2016. Sounds like there is some disagreement about the total efficiency and also there seems to be a lot of loss of mass required after post processing. Not sure if that also applies to the 2021 paper you linked. Neat stuff! I had never heard of this style of protein generation before!
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 30, 2022 @ 6:20pm
Claiming a very substantial saving, even with bacteria providing the entire protein mix for the crew
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 30, 2022 @ 6:19pm
Discussing the use of hydrogen-oxidising bacteria (Cupriavidus necator) to turn hydrogen and oxygen (plus presumably trace nutrients) into proteins in a bioreactor
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 30, 2022 @ 6:18pm
What are the odds that I stumble across an article on exactly the previous discussion
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 30, 2022 @ 6:17pm
NaxyDent January 30, 2022 @ 6:37am
I prefer testing at somewhat larger scale.
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:45pm
the thoughts behind it are thought provoking👍
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:44pm
If I ever do a deeper-dive version of this modelling I'll definitely go hunting for some better quality data. For now though, it's just a crude system model
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:43pm
i believe the recent iss experiment was done at ambient pressure in a temperature and humidity controlled enclosure.
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:42pm
it probably wouldnt make a lot of difference except that they would need additional mechanical equipment to create and maintain the pressure difference. so maybe just adjust the equipment figures and power figures down by a "reasonable" factor
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:40pm
It seems like the main experiment was testing plant growth at 0.25bar - I hope that's not the data I've been quoting this whole time...
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:40pm
you might find better info from the recent growing tank experiment on the iss. they looked into which veges might grow rapidly in such conditions as well as other factors.
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:38pm
a good way to get nutrient poor floppy vegetables in our experience. However at lest they have put the effort into creating the relevant calculations and data so that we can utilise it 🙂
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:37pm
have seen that pic before
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:37pm
Maybe 50cm across? Hard to tell exactly
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:36pm
Assuming the numbers come from the Mars Greenhouse unit at KSC, this is a picture of the experimental system in question
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:36pm
a bit like they didnt consult actual 4wd experts to on how to drive a 4wd rover through the sand on mars 🙂
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:35pm
perhaps it was put together in the usual space industry way ---- without consulting actual farmers 🙂
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:34pm
Honestly it's a very whacky dataset - but it has one big advantage. All the rest of the ELS data on growing areas, menus etc is based on it. So I don't have to recalculate everything else
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:33pm
woah those are wild figures..... I'm pretty sure the mass figures would be adjusted with systems today. there is no way in any of our projects that the mass of the enutrient replacement would outweigh the mass of the crops. you could also lose the mass of the lamps pretty much altogether 🙂
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:30pm
This is old enough data that HPS sodium lamps are considered optimum, hence the electrical ballasts required. Not mechanical ballast as I initially thought!
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:30pm
Just mechanical and electrical parts I believe. Data is coming from this table
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:29pm
"replacement parts" meaning biomass as well?
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:28pm
Haha I think we've got two similar values with very different meanings. That's (allegedly) the mass of replacement parts needed per square metre of biomass area, per year of operation
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:26pm
I've seen the 2.3kg/m2/day figures used in a number of places. I think this is based on an entirely vegetable diet without any specialisation to find the best performing food items. that is those that the human system can absorb the most nutrient from.
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:23pm
. Obviously I love this area of tech as it is what we do at VRM. however we havent attempted the sort of calcs on energy efficiency in growing that you are looking at here. 👍
bigred January 29, 2022 @ 7:20pm
of course yes it is cheaper with natural. however you need to factor in the increased yield and quality. for that you will need research on product, yield and nutrient richness..... that's why i said I would ask my brother if I can share some of it. If this is in any environment outside of earths protective atmosphere then you also have to factor in the radiation damage and shielding necessary. This will add to the cost and reduction of nutrient richness. Less nutrient in the plant means you have to grow more for the people to eat. You can find quite a lot of info on this even from nasa and their partner projects.
Ross (/u/_albertross) January 29, 2022 @ 7:15pm
I'll defer to your expertise here - I know almost nothing about gene edited plants!