Aquaponics in Space

Aquaponics, Ideas - 2 Comments » - Posted on June, 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Wow. What an interesting idea. At lunch today we had a really good discussion about this.

Firstly – why would you do it? Well you can grow some protein onboard your ship – you can’t exactly grow livestock so apart from protein in legumes etc this might be the only way.  Secondly, this is dirt free, so you don’t need to worry about dirt getting in your systems and cutting them to pieces.  Space ships are all about recirculation, this is a very low tech recirculation system.  The added bonus being that the plants scrub the air of carbon dioxide.

Space throws up a whole bunch of problems. Firstly, how would you do it? Well I’d do it by grabbing an asteroid that’s mostly water ice, and build a structure around it. You then add another module which has hydroponic trays full of plants.  The biofiltration is done by a barrels of “bioballs”, or possibly just by bacteria growing on the walls of the structures.

Do we need gravity? Maybe not, the plants will grow towards light, and the roots will grow towards water, but gravity is useful. For starters, how would you keep the water inside the grow trays? I think you’d be fighting a losing battle, but if you had gravity – it doesn’t need to be much, then at least the water will stay “down”, and can be made to flow along the bottom of the channel. Dunno how fish like zero gravity – they have a swim bladder which enables them to go up and down in the water column, so I guess we need SOME gravity. Maybe fish have fine enough control of their swim bladder to handle low grav?

I’m not fluid physicist, but so long as the fish tank was “full enough” then you wouldn’t have too many problems with the fish getting stuck in a bubble of air and expiring. Plus I think the fact that you’re in a gravity-less environment would mean that the fish “flipping” about would actually have some effect on the air/water around it and eventually it would find itself back in the water. A bit of gravity might help with this as well, maybe you could pressurise the sides of the tank so the water stays as a ball in the middle? I dunno, probably not possible.

The fish need oxygen in the water – this might be a problem. The plants provide oxygen, but whether they provide enough oxygen for the fish to consume is another questionable. (Aside: I wonder why astronauts don’t have a massive vat of algae to do their CO2 to O2?). We wouldn’t want the whole system to consume oxygen.

Apparently water ice asteroids in space have quite a bit of Ammonia in them. Sheesh, that’s exactly what an Aquaponics system excels at. So when the ice has melted down, you can run the system for a couple of months and it’ll consume the Ammonia (and the plants will grow! Hurrah!) and by the time you’re ready for fish, it’ll be all cycled because it’s consumed the Ammonia present in the ice asteroid, ready for the Ammonia produced by the fish. Maybe NASA should explore using this high Ammonia ice to grow plants without the fish as this could be done right now. By product is drinkable water or oxygen if you want to go to the effort of splitting H2O.

A spinning ship provides the slight gravity that you need, it also means that you can emulate night and day.

Heating is another issue, it’s cold up there.  I think you’d have to filter the sunlight – I think direct sunlight is very dangerous, and the plants would probably get smashed by it (that’s why our ozone layer is so important), so we might need to have some sort of filter there. But if we had that, we’d essentially already have a greenhouse. I suppose you could do everything with closed boxes and awesome insulation for your modules, and use growlights for the plants, but I like the idea of using the sun.

I suppose we really need to close the cycle a bit more – the fish would need to eat plants, maybe we could use plant waste and turn it into worms (or even the worms compost our bodily wastes ….). Otherwise you’re going to need to take up a whole bunch of food for the fish. Though if you’ve got carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, you should be able to grow food for fish like you can grow plants for humans. Maybe you’d need to create more of a food chain (i.e. watersnails which convert algae to protein, fish which eat the watersnails and grow).

I dunno  – there are probably a million flaws with the idea, but it’s very blue sky dreaming and I love that kind of thinking. Give it thirty years! “Every deep space ark ship should be fitted with an Aquaponics system, and for the best space Aquaponics systems around, you need to talk to the experts“.

The Good Aquaponics System – Part I

Aquaponics, Ideas - No Comments » - Posted on April, 10, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Well. I said I was going to go bigger and better, and I have. I was going to bulid a pond but that kind of fell through – kind of a lot of work and in the end I decided I’d just fork out some cash and get “the proper stuff”. So I bought parts of a BYAP style system from and started setting it up. Now this system I attacked with a different mindset. Previously I had rushed to get things installed and going because I was working fulltime and rushing to get as much done on the weekends as I possibly could (in between soccer, doing the washing and cleaning and generally doing “life”). But this time I had 2 weeks off and I thought “I’m going to do this RIGHT”.

One of the best things about having “a good system” is that you can now relabel your old system “the dodgy system”. So I went to town on it and actually got it up and working well as well, which I’ll detail in another blog entry.

I’ve got about 177 photos uploaded here, but I’ll give you the condensed version of my efforts on the good system:

The site (complete with old system in the background)

The tank (note the grin)

Because I was doing this system “right”, I spent longer than I usually would prepping the site. This included painting the carport with potable water (i.e. safe) bitumen paint. This is because I didn’t want condensation or rain stripping some zinc from the metal and putting it into the system (which would re-introduce the heavy metal woes that I had to deal with in the last system. The motto for this system was “no risks”.

Yay, the plumbing is coming together. I used green pvc glue (which is used for potable water) to glue any connections going up to the growbeds (because it’s under pressure) and just silicon in the joints of the drainage connections.

Note some of the ball valves I have here. Firstly the one in the foreground is to flush some water back into tank (the pump is way too powerful for my needs) – this is angled such that the water is put into a whirlpool style action, the trout love moving water, and it also means that scraps and solids migrate into the centre of the tank where the pump is and end up in the growbeds. The ball valves in the background allow me to isolate the growbeds and connect it up to a hose so I can empty the tank.

This is the custom built growbed stand.

And the water coming off the hydroton when I first washed it. It’s nowhere near as much work to wash this stuff as it is scoria. Expensive, but it’s awesome to work with.

My growbed drains

And this is my overflow – it’s connected to the drain of the tank and is raised to the level I want for the max water level, past this it will overflow onto the garden.

The first inhabitant of my tank

This is the water distribution to the growbeds. I don’t know if this is strictly neccessary, but I’m not taking any risks, any “gunk” that comes out I want to be distrubted so that it can get broken down properly.

So enough with the setup stuff, lets see it in action. Here it is, with the water going, and a skimmer rigged up – it’s actually REALLY effective because of the whirpool effect. You may also notice I have some rope holding pipes together. That’s the only section I didn’t glue, I need to be able to rotate the angle of that return, so instead of using an expensive barrel union, I just used some rope to make sure the pressure doesn’t smash the fittings apart.

This was where I got excited and forgot my “patience” rule. I ordered 200 trout without cycling my system with something else. Anyway, here are the trout.

I netted 50 of ’em and chucked im in my old system.

The thing with trout is that they’re suicidal. Well OK, they jump. And when they’re not careful they tend to jump straight out of the tank. First I knew about it was when my dog arrived happy as larry with a fish sticking out his mouth.

So I got a AP hat made. I haven’t got a photo uploaded, you’ll see it in the next blog entry.

This is why it’s a bad idea to have an uncycled system and then add 200 fish. Ammonia. That’s at about 1.0. I saw it go as high as about 2.0!

It took nearly two weeks for it to start falling. No losses yet, but I’m writing this on holidays, and we all know that stuff goes wrong as soon as you go away. Nitrite readings were pretty high too, and some of the fish were looking a little worse for wear. I salted to 3ppt (which means dumping in 9kg of salt!), and when I left last night the fish were looking happier. More to come real soon.

AI Just Search of Blogs?

Ideas, Ponderings, Software, Technology - No Comments » - Posted on November, 15, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Here’s an interesting idea: I reckon there are so many blogs out there that the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) will simply be a modified search engine. Tthe more obscure and convolouted the topic, the more likely someone is to blog on it. I reckon there’s probably a blog on just about everything. What about an Amish blog – yep (well kinda). What about a blog on cleaning sewers – yep (kinda). Pick a subject, google it, I bet it’s there.

And why am I picking blogs instead of just the web in general? Well blogs are opinions. To be declared an AI, the machine/software must pass The Turing Test – in short it must fool a real person into thinking that it’s a person through text based chat (e.g. IRC, MSN Messanger etc). Of course real people participate as the “control” and sometimes the judges pick the real people as machines and the machines as real people, but nobody has claimed the prize as yet (though apparently there were a few that were close this year).

So what I’m trying to say is that this software that is undergoing the test must act like a human – i.e. have an opinion. What’s the best way to do that? Data mine the millions of human opinions floating in the World Wide Web. Basically if the judge asks a question, the software would look up that question on the web (blogs only) and find someone who’s had an opinion or thought about it somewhere out there, do a bit of syntactic juggling and pass the result back to the judge.

It’s not really an AI, because it’s not really thinking for itself – it’s more like a global consciousness. It just takes the opinions of the people out there and uses them as it’s own.  I know I’ve glossed over some pretty complex stuff – how could you properly take input and find the right answer? What is this syntactic juggling? Google has technology which pretty much knows what you’re asking even when you mis-type it, so I think the technologies are out there.

I wonder how hard it would be to do this, and I wonder how good the results would be.

RFID Garbage

Ideas, Technology - No Comments » - Posted on November, 6, 2006 at 11:32 pm

So I’ve had an idea. It is slightly evil, but could be very useful. It’s all about waste analysis.

RFID technology is starting to get wider usage in every day life. In some grocery stores it is embedded in the packaging of the products living on the shelves. For them it makes price changes a simple procedure and allows processes like automated checkouts (say bye bye to the checkout chick) to become a reality.

But as far as I know, the RFID tag stays with the packaging, which is where my idea comes in. See once you’ve eaten the contents of the packaging, you’ll be throwing it away. If you had an RFID capable garbage bin, it could collect metrics on the types of food you eat as well as when you eat it (well how often you empty your rubbish anyway). Add a set of scales to the bin and it can measure the weight of the waste a household produces, as well as the product breakdown (pun intended) of the waste.

Then every thursday night the trucks come around and take your trash and your data. The truk then dumps all its rubbish at the tip and dumps the collected data on a phat server. Now you have the waste statistics of the entire city/municipality/shire located on a big fat database in a server room somewhere.

Now enter the data mining guys. Some of them are evil, and some of them are good. For instance, if used for good, the data could help the council to improve waste disposal services. It could also send letters to people who recycle the wrong things, or throw things out which could be recycled. If used for evil, it would allow people (of any disposition) to really get inside your head and know you possibly better than you know yourself…. “amazing, I never knew I had tuna every 2nd friday of the 3rd month of a leap year”. Ahh the powers of datamining!

I’m sure there is a packet of money to be made in this. There would be a lot of information about peoples use of products. If they find a correlation between tuna and mondays, they’ll put tuna ads on Mondays. In fact, there are plenty of self made millionaires who have made their empire on other peoples rubbish. Waste disposal is a big industry – you’d have to silence the privacy advocates, but I’m sure you could do it….
But of course, you are too late. It his has already been done. Just google for rfid garbage bins! Woe betide us and our 1984 like future.