X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge Completes Fifth Year

The University of Colorado's pre-deployable Martian greenhouse prototype. Image Credit: University of Colorado

The University of Colorado’s pre-deployable Martian greenhouse prototype. Image Credit: University of Colorado

June 15, 2015 – Five teams competing in the 2014-2015 Exploration Habitat, or X-Hab, Academic Innovation Challenge recently completed their final milestones for the academic year. The university project teams were selected in May 2014 to work with NASA through a systems engineering process in technology areas to enhance habitation capabilities for deep space missions.

Crew habitation is a key focus area for NASA as it prepares for deep space missions in the proving ground of cis-lunar space in the 2020s, and future, farther missions to the Mars system in the following decades. Engaging students in habitation design challenges is mutually beneficial for NASA and the students. NASA gains fresh design concepts while helping to shape the next generation of engineers who will likely be the ones building the systems required for the long journey to Mars and eventual human presence on the red planet. Students obtain important hands-on experience developing prototype spaceflight systems and receive mentoring from NASA leaders.

The X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge 2015 teams and projects were:

  • University of Colorado at Boulder: Deployable Greenhouse for Food Production

  • Oklahoma State University: Deployable Greenhouse for food production on long-duration exploration missions

  • University of South Alabama: Development of a Volumetric Absorption System for CO2 and H2O Multicomponent Isotherm Measurements

  • University of Vermont: Design of a “Smart-Structure” Deployable Airlock

  • University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee: Design of a Carbon-fiber/Fused Deposition Modeling Spacecraft Structural Fabrication System

  • University of Colorado – Boulder

    After completing a conceptual design for a pre-deployable Martian greenhouse, the University of Colorado-Boulder team designed and constructed a prototype to identify science concepts and engineering challenges. Further prototype development opportunities include supporting a variety of food-producing plants over multiple growth cycles to investigate topics such as utilization of in-situ CO2 while minimizing atmospheric contamination, water recycling and reduction of losses through the system, and replacement of consumables.

    Oklahoma State University

    Students from Oklahoma State University designed a module for use as an Organics and Agricultural Sustainment Inflatable System (OASIS) to grow plants autonomously on Mars before astronaut arrival. A full-scale model of one of the module’s “greenwings,” or growth chambers that extend from the OASIS central hub, was built and outfitted with a deployable plant growth system and an aeroponics system. In addition, the team also built a smaller scale model of a greenwing to test how greenwings could inflate and deploy from the central hub of the module.

    University of South Alabama

    The team from the University of South Alabama designed and built a multi-component adsorption recirculation system to measure adsorption of carbon dioxide and how water vapor affects the adsorption. This technology would be able to be used on spacecraft to purify air.

    University of Vermont

    After designing an inflatable airlock system that could be used on deep space missions, University of Vermont students built a one-third scale model to test how the airlock could be deployed, repacked, and reused multiple times. The team tested multiple folding methods, fabric connection points and methods, and multiple air inflation systems.

    University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

    The team from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studied 3-D printing technology applications for creating and recycling tools on long-term space missions. They had the goal of creating high-strength, reliable components produced using carbon fiber reinforcements in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) during Fused Deposition Modeling, an additive manufacturing technology that deposits the materials in layers. They tested to optimize for strength, weight, and then separation of the materials and recyclability of the ABS. Using this method, they designed a ratcheting wrench, crowfoot adapter, locking pliers, and modular tools.

    NASA recently announced the 2016 X-Hab design challenge selectees, which will also include the University of Colorado – Boulder.