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2014 X-Hab Innovation Challenge Progress Update

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Tue Apr 8, 2014 5:48 pm via: NASA
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The X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge seeks to provide university students with the opportunity to be on the forefront of innovation.

For the past four years, NASA has identified necessary technologies for deep space missions and invited universities from around the country to develop concepts, prototypes and lessons learned that will help shape future space missions. This year’s selected partners and areas of emphasis are:

  • Colorado University – Remotely Operated Gardening Robot System
  • Oklahoma State University – Vertical Habitat Design
  • Rice University – SpaceRing Power-Cooling System
  • University of Maryland – Neutral Buoyancy Habitat Study
  • University of South Alabama – Novel Absorbent Air Revitalization for Closed Environments
  • University of Wisconsin – Compartmentalized Onboard Material Extrusion Technology

Colorado

Food and breathable air are commodities in high demand for sustaining life beyond Earth. The University of Colorado is attempting to build a robotic gardener to help maintain the production of both. Their Remotely Operated Gardening Robot (ROGR) coupled with the Smart Pot (SPOT) system will allow automated and/or remote controlled tending of astronauts’ food supply. During initial deep space missions, menial tasks, such as gardening, fail to maximize the ability of a human while on an extraterrestrial body.

The University of Colorado's Remotely Operated Gardening Robot (ROGR) and Smart Pot (SPOT) system.

The University of Colorado's Remotely Operated Gardening Robot (ROGR) and Smart Pot (SPOT) system.

The University of Colorado's Remotely Operated Gardening Robot (ROGR) and Smart Pot (SPOT) process.

The University of Colorado's Remotely Operated Gardening Robot (ROGR) and Smart Pot (SPOT) process.

Maryland

The University of Maryland returns to the X-Hab Challenge, this year utilizing previous projects to conduct advanced research. They will build on their research of deep space habitats using a neutral buoyancy facility at the school to test habitat systems for various orientations, durations and levels of gravity. The overarching goal is to make conclusions on whether vertical or horizontal habitats will be most effective and what systems are able to operate with zero, partial or equivalent-to-Earth gravitational forces. Ideally, they will be able to identify potential issues and provide recommendations for systems that will remain effective through gravitational increases or decreases.

The University of Maryland's Deep Space Habitat concept.

The University of Maryland's Deep Space Habitat concept.

The University of Maryland team displays the inside of their deep space habitat (left) and the neutral buoyancy facility that they will use during the challenge (right).

The University of Maryland team displays the inside of their deep space habitat (left) and the neutral buoyancy facility that they will use during the challenge (right).

Oklahoma

Oklahoma State University is departing from years of research on expandable habitats and focusing on space utilization in a vertical habitat. Much of their study focuses on modular designs and the ability to attach and/or expand an airlock on the side of the habitat. They are creating space for work, sleep, storage and various kinds of beds for up to three crew members. Their proposed design has two levels and a combined total of approximately 300 square feet.
Three different views of the Oklahoma State University’s deep space habitat concept designs.

An Oklahoma State University team member inspects their deep space habitat frame.

An Oklahoma State University team member inspects their deep space habitat frame.

The Oklahoma State University's deep space habitat concept designs.

The Oklahoma State University's deep space habitat concept designs.

Rice

Because long duration missions require maximum efficiency, current systems must be evaluated and redesigned as necessary. Rice University is working on developing a more efficient means of transferring heat. They have identified a loss of valuable heat through heat exchangers and heat pipes currently being used on the International Space Station. Their aim is to design a more efficient cooling system that will also capture previously unused heat and convert it to electrical energy.

Rice University's in-space habitat closed-loop heat transfer system concept of operation.

Rice University's in-space habitat closed-loop heat transfer system concept of operation.

Rice University is seeking to improve cooling system efficiency during this X-Hab Challenge.

Rice University is seeking to improve cooling system efficiency during this X-Hab Challenge.

South Alabama

The things taken for granted the most on Earth could pose the most challenging problems in deep space. The University of South Alabama intends to construct an innovative, compact air revitalization demonstration unit that uses a molecular framework absorbent-based system. The system will monitor environmental air conditions and efficiently break down carbon dioxide molecules to create breathable air with minimal attention required by the crew.

The University of South Alabama's air revitalization unit concept.

The University of South Alabama's air revitalization unit concept.

Wisconsin

When a crew is days, weeks or months from Earth, the possibility of parts breaking or running out of supplies is a real threat. The University of Wisconsin is working to provide a compact solution in the form of a collapsible 3D printer. Taking backup pieces and parts for everything is impossible, but if such a device can be used to manufacture any necessary materials as needed, crews would only have to bring that single piece of hardware. Not only could this save a crew or mission, but it would also reduce overall weight and costs for longer duration space flights.

Concept drawing of the University of Wisconsin's collapsable 3D printer.

Concept drawing of the University of Wisconsin's collapsable 3D printer.

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