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Four Universities To Develop Technologies For Deep Space Habitat
January 9, 2012

The Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) in its deep space habitat configuration, with X-Hab loft attached. Photo credit: Regan Geeseman
The Habitat Demonstration Unit, Deep Space Habitat configuration with X-Hab loft at the 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) analog field test. Photo credit: NASA/Regan Geeseman

NASA has selected student teams from four universities to develop technologies for a habitat that will enable NASA deep space missions. The eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is a university-level competition organized by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Habitation Systems (AES-HS) project, designed to engage and retain students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines while providing realistic opportunities for students to do research that is not only relevant to their academic work, but which provides NASA engineers and scientists information that can be used in day-to-day activities. The AES-HS project has been charged with designing and building functional prototype habitats for humans to live and work in space.

"The X-Hab Challenge has selected four university teams to participate in our mission critical path," said Scott Howe, NASA JPL, AES-HS project's Design Integration Lead who is managing the X-Hab Challenge.

All four universities have set up coursework based on these projects, so that students will be working on these problems for two semesters after which they will have a deliverable. Two of the universities are assigned to design, analyze, manufacture, and assemble subsystems that will be needed on a deep space habitat:

  • Ohio State University: Design, manufacture, and assemble a Plant Growth System that is capable of growing a small number of edible plants to supplement the crew diet. The system will autonomously water the plants, check their current status using a variety of instruments and cameras, and provide for lighting. The Plant Growth System operating software will be incorporated in the habitat control system software that is already running all the other major subsystems in the AES-HS prototype Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) Deep Space Habitat (DSH).

  • University of Bridgeport, Connecticut: Design, manufacture, and assemble a Sample Handling System that will function inside the GeoLab glovebox. The Sample Handling System will include 3-axis (i.e., XYZ) translation, rotation in six degrees of freedom of a sample (rock, etc.) in microgravity, and include cameras, sensors, etc. The Sample Handling System operating software will also be incorporated in the HDU-DSH habitat control system software.

Two other universities will build full-size habitat mockups at their respective universities, and perform studies on volume, ergonomics, and other issues that would be linked to a particular geometry of a pressurized environment. These two studies should help the AES-HS project with equipment modularity, orientation, and other habitability issues:

  • University of Maryland, College Park: Design a mission to the first Earth-Moon Lagrange point (EML-1) for 90 days using primarily a vertically-oriented habitat and perform habitability tests in a full-scale mock-up.

  • Oklahoma State University: Design a mission to EML-1 for 90 days using primarily a horizontally-oriented habitat and perform habitability tests in a full-scale mock-up.

All four university projects, products, and results are due in May 2012, in time to incorporate into the NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) 2012 mission scenarios that will be held at Johnson Space Center.

The X-Hab 2012 Challenge is the second year the AES-HS project that has engaged university teams. Last year, three universities - the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Maryland-College Park, and Oklahoma State University - competed to build full-size inflatable loft prototypes that could be attached to the top of the HDU-DSH. In that competition, University of Wisconsin-Madison won the opportunity to take their inflatable loft out the the Arizona desert for the 2011 Desert RATS mission.

For more information:
› X-Hab Challenge website

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