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NASA Seeks University-designed Solutions to Deep Space Human Exploration Challenges

NASA is looking for university teams that can develop innovative design solutions for deep space human exploration systems as part of the 2018 eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge. NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) division sponsors X-Hab as part of its work to develop foundational technologies and high-priority capabilities that form the building blocks for future human space missions.  In collaboration with the National Space Grant Foundation, the AES and Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications divisions will offer multiple X-Hab 2018 awards of $20,000 to $30,000 each. Awardees will design and produce studies or functional products to increase knowledge and foster risk reduction for space exploration capabilities.

Read the full challenge solicitation here:

Habitat Demonstration Unit, Deep Space Habitat
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.
Credits: NASA/Regan Geeseman

The 2018 X-Hab Challenge addresses 11 topic areas that are key to future deep space human exploration:

  • Mars Habitat Commonality – Create a habitation system with common features among in-space and surface habitat designs. This will increase efficiency in the development process and crews will be familiar with the layout, function, and location of the surface habitat prior to arrival on Mars.
  • Small-Scale Mobility Testbed for Reduced Flight Aircraft – Create a test apparatus to enable rover wheel-soil interaction testing in reduced gravity aircraft.
  • Quantification of Condensed Water on the Resource Prospector – Create a method for determining the quantity of a condensed fluid (water) on a surface.
  • Humidity Management for CO2 Sequestration through Deposition – Design, build, and characterize the operation of a humidity removal and recovery system for air revitalization used in conjunction with a cryocooled carbon dioxide removal system.
  • Carbon Dioxide and Water Recovery System (COHO) – Design, develop, fabricate, and test the integrated COHO system to recover carbon dioxide and water for use during deep space travel as well as in the Martian environment.
  • Robotic Replacement of Power System Modular Circuit Board – Modify the mechanical design of a modular circuit board and its chassis to enable removal and replacement of a failed board using robotics.
  • Long-Term Hygienic Trash Stowage System – Develop a prototype Long-Term Hygienic Trash Stowage System that includes trash stowage container, volume reduction, long-term odor control, and a long-term hygienic trash stowage arrangement.
  • 3-D Printing with Biologic Materials: Closing the Manufacturing Loop and “Greening” Additive Manufacturing – Use plant mass or other biologically derived materials to create filament feedstock for 3-D printing.
  • Novel Steady-State Food Production System for Space – Develop a novel, steady-state microgravity plant food production system for a crewed environment that dampens the effects of crop growth on the vehicle/habitat Environmental Control and Life Support System.
  • Fresh Produce Sanitation System for Use in Microgravity – Design and prototype a fresh produce sanitation system functional in microgravity. The system should be highly sustainable, require minimal crew time, and avoid tainting or altering the food items.
  • 3-D Printed Plant Growth Substrate – Design and prototype a plant growth substrate that utilizes 3-D printing to achieve effective plant growth in microgravity.

X-Hab is an academic collaboration that provides real-world, hands-on design, research and development opportunities for students who may be interested in space industry careers, while strengthening NASA’s efforts to confront current challenges, optimize technology investments, foster innovation, and facilitate technology infusion.  Through strategic cooperation with universities, the agency intends to bridge gaps and increase knowledge in technologies, capabilities, and operational approaches related to human spaceflight.  Previous X-Hab challenges resulted in products that have been tested and evaluated at NASA centers and in analog field tests. The products and technologies that universities develop for the 2018 X-Hab challenge will be further refined for next-generation exploration systems. These contributions could eventually provide the basis for future demonstrations and missions as NASA plans to send humans further into the solar system than ever before.

Entries are due April 28, 2017. For more information about the challenge and how to submit a proposal, visit

To view past NASA X-Hab projects, visit .

Editor: Shanessa Jackson
Photo Credit: NASA

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