TM to Crew Quarters hatch plate install

The original Test Module (TM) was constructed in 1987 and operated into 1990 as a prototype for the much larger Biosphere 2. Where a single occupant of the 440 square foot TM shared an intimate space with the plants that recycled the air and water and produced all food, the 3.1 acre Biosphere was divided into five biomes, a technical understory, and living space for its eight occupants. SAM falls somewhere in between with the TM serving as the controlled environment (greenhouse) for food cultivars and plant growth experiments, two added shipping containers (20′ x 8′ and 40′ x 8′) to serve as the workshop, storage, kitchen, common area, sleeping compartments, and toilet-bathroom.

Kai Staats, Colleen Cooley, and Trent Tresch with assistance from Tim Mcmullen and Jason Deleeuw of the Biosphere 2 staff removed two of the original TM sealed windows and frames, then bolted in place a single 133.5″ x 66.5″ sheet of 3/16″ steel with a welded frame. This new construct was prepared by James Parker and his crew at the University of Arizona Machining and Welding Center (Thank you!) and forms the passage between the Test Module and the 20 foot shipping container. The hatch itself will include a pressure fitting such that the TM can again maintain a hermetic seal independent of the Crew Quarters, or be run open for a fully pass-through airflow.

By design, the hatch is 40″ wide and 48″ inches tall, and will include a few steps up to either side. This is intended to serve three purposes: to provide a single, clean interface for the pressure sealed hatch, to maintain the integrity of the historic Test Module, and to provide a space-ship like interface between these two major components of the SAM construct.

On Tuesday, January 18, the two shipping containers will be placed on their concrete footings and the transition from restoration to construction will be well underway!

By |2022-01-16T05:15:03+00:00January 14th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Spectral Analysis

Spectral Analysis at SAM, Biosphere 2

As we have worked to simulate the interior light conditions of a habitat on Mars, covering the upward facing glass panels of the Test Module with optically opaque silicone elastomeric, and the horizontal window panes with 50% optical transmission film, it is important to understand how the light falls inside of this greenhouse space. While we will rely upon synthetic lights for most growing operations, the additional, natural light will affect grow patterns.

Tullio Dellaquila is a light specialist who was on-site working with John Adams at the Biosphere 2 ocean. He stopped by SAM to conduct a spectral analysis of the light, from four key positions:

a) Outside of SAM, unfiltered by glass or any overhead structure.
b) Inside SAM, through the mid-level, unfiltered glass.
c) Inside SAM, through the lower, filtered glass.
d) Inside SAM, in the shadow of the silicone covered, top glass panels.

The data is currently under review, and will be published at this entry, soon.

By |2021-12-29T18:47:04+00:00December 19th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

TM to Crew Quarters hatch design

SAM TM to crew quarters hatch design

SAM volunteer Colleen Cooley and Kai Staats worked on the design of the portal between the Test Module and the Crew Quarters, determining how crew members will move between the two distinct section of the SAM habitat. While it was the original intent to cut down into the knee-wall of the Test Module to create a walk-through, it was determined that by instead keeping the hatch at a higher level, it could be contained entirely in the space defined by the current window frame which is being replaced by a single sheet of steel. As such, the hatch can be closed to return the Test Module to a fully pressurized, hermetic seal and operate as such with or without the adjacent crew quarters sealed. This gives SAM a greater degree of flexibility and maintains the integrity of the historic Test Module while giving visiting teams a true sense of moving from one module into the other much as one does in the International Space Station.

By |2021-12-29T08:40:45+00:00December 17th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Mini-split Installation

Mini-split install at SAM, Biosphere 2

Heating and cooling the SAM Test Module (greenhouse) is paramount to the success of plant biology and food cultivar studies. Maintaining a relatively constant, controlled temperature and humidity is not easy in the context of the drastic changes in weather and conditions of the Arizona desert.

When the Test Module was first built, a separate room was required to produce hot or cold water which when pumped through a heat exchanger suspended from the interior space frame provided warm or cool air. That unit weighed a few thousand pounds and was removed piece by piece in the first few weeks of SAM effort, February 2021.

That system consumed massive amounts of electricity, likely more than 100 amps at full draw. The modern replacement, a mini-split heat pump, is far more energy efficient at just 15 amps maximum draw per condenser. What’s more, the interior air handler (sometimes referred to as the “head”) is not unlike that which could be used in an isolated, off-world habitat for it does not exchange air inside to out, rather, it recirculates air entirely internal to the controlled environment. Only the pressurized gas that exchanges the thermal energy from the condenser to the air handler moves through the wall, and in this case through a manifold that maintains the hermetic seal.

As the condenser at SAM does use a convective thermal exchange process (fan), it would not work as such on Mars for the atmosphere is too thin to conduct the heat away from the external unit. Instead, the condenser would pass the pressurized gas through a radiator likely composed of hair-like aluminum or copper filaments for maximum surface area and passive radiant thermal exchange.

The first unit was installed on June 26, 2021. This was operational for the 5-person, 4-hour test run. The second unit was installed on December 16, 2021 by the same team from AirQuest, based in Tucson, Arizona. Owner and president Aaron worked with Kai Staats for a few months prior to the first installation to calculate the required cooling and best placement of the units. As the software provided by the mini-split manufacturers does not anticipate an all glass construction at 24 feet tall, the upper reaches coated with a silicone elastomeric, a good bit of intuition and experience dictated the final design. Kai and Aaron co-designed the manifold which was then fabricated by Kai Staats and Heracio of the AirQuest team. The final product is air tight and highly efficient.

By |2021-12-29T08:36:13+00:00December 15th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

A return to the lung shell

Painting the SAM lung shell

The SAM lung was designed as a prototype, something to perform a few seasons, not much more. As such, it was not sealed from the rain which over time resulted in substantial rust to the interior surface of the upper shell.

Starting in the spring of 2021 Trent Tresch scraped and sanded the loose paint. In December Kai returned to this effort, preparing the surface for primer. Volunteer Colleen Cooley and Kai Staats applied a coat of direct-to-rust primer, which both stabilizes the rust and prepares the surface for the final, enamel top coat.

By |2021-12-29T08:52:37+00:00December 14th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Concrete slab and crew quarters footings are poured!

Knife work on the new SAM slab at Biosphere 2

Mixing, pouring, and finishing concrete is no small undertaking. While it can be done bag by bag, shovel by shovel for small jobs, the critical nature of a uniform density, physical and chemical consistency demands proper mixing and delivery by a professional concrete company and finish by the experts.

Daniel, Ricardo, and Fernando are experts in their field. They estimated the concrete delivery to within a half wheel barrow and were able to cut and position the sauna tubes for the concrete footings for the shipping containers to a level of perfection. Next, we prepare the shipping containers and west side of the Test Module for extension of the pressure vessel and in January place the containers as the foundation for the new Crew Quarters at SAM.

By |2021-12-15T08:03:10+00:00December 8th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Preparation for new concrete footings

Fernando preps for the concrete pour at SAM, Biosphere 2 Daniel preps for the concrete pour at SAM, Biosphere 2 Ricardo preps for the concrete pour at SAM, Biosphere 2 Daniel, Ricardo, Fernando prep for the concrete pour at SAM, Biosphere 2

With the second phase of construction of SAM we are quickly transitioning from refurbish to new construction (which is far more enjoyable). In the spring of 2021 we poured a new concrete slab between the Test Module and its lung to the south in order to provide a foundation for the new mini-split A/C units, and to reduce the amount of debris and dirt that got kicked up when working in that area. The result was clear, we needed to go ahead and pour a slab around the east and west sides of the Test Module when we moved to pour the concrete footings for the 20 and 40 foot shipping containers, our soon-to-be crew quarters.

Daniel, Ricard, and Fernando are a unique team. Highly skilled, extremely knowledgeable, and absolutely a joy to work with (as well as constant comic relief!, they were able to prepare the site from gravel and dirt to line and laser level in two mornings. Kai Staats assisted with validation of the critical measurements and sketches for the precise location of this exciting addition to SAM.

Next week, the concrete will be poured!

By |2021-12-15T08:04:14+00:00December 7th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SAM lung renewed!

Top coat of paint applied to the lower lung floor at SAM, Biosphere 2

The lower lung extension of the Test Module pressure vessel had been left open for some thirty years. Every critter known to the Senoran desert had made a home of the dark, cool space below the steel pan and flexible EPDM membrane. It was, in scientific terms, disgusting. Our first effort to clean this space was conducted in the spring of 2021 with respirator, goggles, gloves, and sprayer with a bleach-water solution to stabilize the waste and debris.

Trent and Kai inflated the lung and then attached the stilts to enable safe work beneath. Kai power-washed the underside of the pan and membrane twice. Kai and Trent then removed the loose paint with scrapers and orbital sanders, scrubbed with water and brush, and wet-mopped. The difference was night to day.

While we have experimented with latex paints in the Test Module, it became clear that water-based paints simply do not offer the needed protection for metal surfaces against further rust and corrosion. We therefore applied a Rust-O-Leum product designed to secure bare metal and rusted surfaces, followed by an oil-based enamel. The result is a highly durable, easy to clean surface that will give the lower lung another decade of function with minimal maintenance. The enamel paint will have six months to cure, more than ample to stabilize the VOCs.

Thank you volunteer Colleen Cooley for returning to SAM and lending a hand in this effort.

By |2022-01-16T20:59:25+00:00November 18th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Second shipping container arrives

Shipping container arrives to SAM at Biosphere 2 Shipping container arrives to SAM at Biosphere 2 Shipping container arrives to SAM at Biosphere 2 Gas and electric line detection at SAM, Biosphere 2

We have received shipment of our second shipping container, this a hi-cube, non-insulated 20 foot unit that will serve as the corridor between the Test Module and the 40 foot crew quarters. We have also detected and marked all buried gas and electrical lines in advance of the new concrete footings that will secure the shipping containers.

By |2021-11-30T14:07:32+00:00November 11th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

A Mars Yard diorama

SAM Mars yard diorama at Biosphere 2

Outdoor Mars yard at SAM update With the effort to remove the five, small greenhouse structures west of the Test Module and large greenhouse completed by Laura Blystone and her team, Kai, Trent, and Sean set to cleaning after a summer of intense wind and rain that brought down most of the remaining roof panels from the original, thirty years old structure.

We recycled the plywood removed from the west wall of the large greenhouse structure, standing six sheets vertically against the south wall of the large greenhouse, what will be the 6400 square-foot indoor Mars yard. In review of several photos taken by various Mars rovers, we selected an initial paint color to represent the martian sky and applied it to the plywood following a coat of primer.

Terry moved six tractor loads of crushed basalt against the plywood to form a miniature martian landscape. With this in place, we have a diorama with which we can explore a color palette for the future, sculpted concrete, scaled crater that will cover the entire length and width of this building.

By |2021-11-30T13:58:09+00:00November 4th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments