University Students Design Prototypes That NASA Could Use in Deep-Space Human Exploration Missions

University of Maryland, College Park developed an inflatable crew lock prototype called TAILS (Testable Airlock for Inflation via Low-pressure Systems).
Credits: University of Maryland, College Park

The 2019 eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge supports NASA’s efforts to develop technologies and capabilities that will enable future human space exploration and support NASA’s Artemis missions.

Advanced Exploration Systems Gateway & Transport

University of Maryland, College ParkThe team at the University of Maryland, College Park developed the Testable Airlock for Inflation via Low-pressure Systems (TAILS) including the concept, design and full-scale prototype. TAILS is an inflatable habitat airlock which features a pressurized bladder and representative restraint layers in the primary structure, and a deployable metallic frame to maintain the airlock geometry during depressurized operations.

Life Support

Iowa State University, Ames 
Students from Iowa State University synthesized novel metal-organic framework (MOF) materials for use as sorbents in a new process for removing metabolic carbon dioxide (CO2) from spacecraft cabin air. The team also developed a bench-scale CO2 scrubber using their MOF materials, which is capable of absorbing CO2 from a simulated air stream and regenerating the MOF material to enable continuous CO2 removal. The scrubber system is operated using software developed by the team. This effort provided valuable insight into the relative performance of different MOF materials for CO2 removal.​

The Iowa State team successfully demonstrate their CO2 scrubber during a visit to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.
Credits: Iowa State University

NASA, in partnership with the National Space Grant Foundation, awarded nearly $334,000 to 10 university projects for the development of studies, functional products, and solutions that would enhance and advance human space exploration. Awards ranged from $15,000 to $50,000 and funded projects that support NASA’s research efforts to study sustainable and affordable human and robotic space exploration and demonstrate the agency’s commitment to developing the highly skilled scientific and technical workforce of the future.

“In order for NASA to accomplish its goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024, we have to find new and innovative technologies and systems that will allow us to explore more of the Moon and go farther and stay longer in deep space than ever before,” said Tracy Gill, NASA’s X-Hab grant program coordinator. “X-Hab is a program that not only provides us with new potential technologies, but it gives us access to the next generation of space explorers and the university student teams the opportunity to tackle real-world space exploration challenges.”

The X-Hab 2019 projects fell within one of the following six categories based on sponsoring organizations or projects: 1) Advanced Exploration Systems Gateway & Transport; 2) Life Support; 3) In-Space Manufacturing; 4) Space Life & Physical Sciences; 5) Human Research Program, and 6) Logistics Reduction.

In-Space Manufacturing

South Dakota State University, Brookings
South Dakota State University students developed and evaluated several filaments mixed with basalt for use in “fused filament fabrication systems” or conventional, 3D desktop printers. Basalt is a type of rock material indigenous to many planetary surfaces and its fiber can be mixed with traditional plastic used in 3D Printing. The basalt fiber makes the plastic stronger and increases its ability to withstand impact and radiation. Promising filaments were mechanically tested and exposed to X-Ray radiation to give a qualitative indication of shielding performance. The team used simulations to predict the filament’s estimated interaction with gamma rays. This research will help guide follow-on research tasks to develop sustainable manufacturing in space.

Basalt loaded filament produced by the South Dakota State University X-Hab team.
Credits: South Dakota State University

X-Hab is sponsored by the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), a division in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in collaboration with the Office of STEM Engagement and Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP).

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