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The Eden Project] (near St Austell, Cornwall, UK) is a terrestrial example of the possible use of large biomes as greenhouses and life support for Mars colonies. Image credit: Jürgen Matern

Growing plants in a Greenhouse delivers oxygen and food. It can play an important part in human recreation (Mars Garden) and may be the place for funerals. The sunlight is not bright enough on Mars to allow usual terrestrial plants to thrive, but it provides a valuable part of light energy for plants. Additional energy is necessary for lighting and heating.

The greenhouse will be constructed from transparent material, allowing maximum sunlight to pass, generating an artificial "greenhouse effect". The spectral properties of the material should be optimized to match the absorption characteristics of chlorophyll, maximizing the energy gain.

Plants need a mix of air pressure and temperature. The greenhouse must be strong enough to hold that air pressure, and it must be insulated to hold the temperature inside. Photosynthesis works only at fairly high temperatures.

Side-lit Greenhouse Concept

The Mars Foundation concept for a side-lit greenhouse.

The Mars Foundation concept for a greenhouse involves the maximum use of local materials to avoid waste, maximize energy input and optimize space. Spawned from the Hillside settlement design, the greenhouse would most likely be located inside/next to a hill side (possibly in the location of Candor Chasma). Therefore regolith or some other absorbant material could be suspended above the greenhouse to protect occupants and plants from harmful radiation. The source of light would therefore be directed from the side, via an array of adjustable mirrors. A system of vents and ducts would allow warm air to circulate, perhaps even used to heat the main habitat.

Underground Greenhouse Concept

Underground Greenhouse Concept

If geothermal energy is not available the heating will consume large amounts of electrical energy. In this case the sum of energy used for lighting and heating must be considered. An underground greenhouse is easier to insulate to hold warmth inside. On the other hand the effort of lighting is higher, since no direct sunlight is used. This concept has some additional advantages: It is meteorite-safe and radiation-safe.

Natural caves and artificial caves can be utilized to build such an underground greenhouse, which requires a preparation with high effort in either case. The maintenance is quite cheap, for the ambient temperatures are steady and the radiation levels are low, so it is a good long term solution. A combination of greenhouse and living space for the settlers is suggested.

In the 50 s during the cold war, many popele built fall-out shelters in/under their yards or under their homes. These usually consist of very thick concrete walls, contained ventilation systems, a separate well, chemical toilet, etc. Watch the movie Blast from the Past to get the general idea. It can be as elaborate as you can afford and want to make it.Seeing as I've actually seen footage of scientists observing nuclear tests in the desert at close range in similar shelters, I have to assume it is possible to survive the initial blast in such a shelter. The real key is surviving long-term how much food can you store, clean water, sewage problems, power, light, comfort items .uh, companionship? How about communication bring a short-wave radio perhaps?I've often pondered this very question. I'm a survivor and I like life. I wouldn't cave to an apocalypse easily and I'd want to be as prepared as I could.

Multiplying Sunlight

Multiple Mirrors for Greenhouse

A solar concentrator‎ is a set of mirrors that can be used to bring more sunlight into the greenhouse than the base area of the greenhouse receives directly from the sun. Three times the amount of Martian sunlight should be enough to serve terrestrial plants. During good weather periods this allows growing vegetables without additional energy.

You don't want AC and solar panels aren't often used in the clamite control of a greenhouse. Cooling is done by vents and fans. Some greenhouses use evaporative cooling pads to bring the temperature down as well, but they are very expensive. Heating is usually done by electric heaters spaced evenly throughout the greenhouse, but hot water pipes under benches or under the floors, or steam pipes can also be used in conjunction with a huge boiler. Some commercial greenhouses are experimenting with geothermal heating/cooling systems.Some other things that are useful are Horizontal Air Flow fans to mix the air, thermometers at plant height to monitor the temperature, water lines to irrigate, benches to put plants on, an injector system to put fertilizer into the water, and shade cloth for the area where shade-loving plants will be grown.

Nutrition and Energy Calculations

Based upon the figures in the food and sunlight articles the following calculations can be carried out for an artificially lit greenhouse:

The minimum size of cropland per person is about 365 m2. The needed light energy can be assumed with 1000 kWh per m2 and year. The result is an annual amount of 365 MWh per person. In other words: An average illumination power of 41,67 kW per person is required.

The usage of fluorescent lamps with an efficiency factor of 30% results in a requirement of about 140 kW per person in electrical energy. The overall efficiency of food production with artificially lit greenhouses is less then 1 permille, or in other words, to produce food with a content of 1 kWh the amount of more than 1 MWh in electricity must be spent.

Parts of the required light can possibly be provided by direct or indirect sunlight. Heating the greenhouse will require additional energy.

Open Issues

  • How long can plants survive without sunlight (e.g. during a dust storm)?
  • How many persons are needed to work in the greenhouse to produce enough food for a hundred persons?
  • How much energy is required for heating, especially during long lasting dust storms? This question can not be answered without an experimental setup.
  • What temperature and air pressure do plants need?
  • What air pressure is needed for persons to work in the greenhouse?
  • What transparent materials match the absorption characteristics of chlorophyll?
  • Do plants need wind? How can it be provided?
  • What is known about radiation tolerance of food crop?

See Also

External links

v · d · eManned Missions to Mars

Concepts: Greenhouse · Settlements · Locations · General
Hazards: Space Weather · Climate · General
Technology: Hi-Tech · Lo-Tech · Energy · Spaceflight science · Communication · General
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