NASA Selects University Teams to Develop Technologies to Enhance Its Artemis Missions

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA, in partnership with the National Space Grant Foundation, has selected seven university teams to develop innovative design ideas that will help NASA advance and execute its Artemis  program objectives.

The selections are a part of the 2021 Moon to Mars eXploration Systems and Habitation (M2M X-Hab)  Academic Innovation Challenge, sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) division. The winning teams will be given monetary awards ranging from $15,000- $50,000 to assist them in designing and producing studies, research findings or functional products that bridge strategic knowledge gaps, increase capabilities and lower technology risks related to NASA’s Moon to Mars space exploration missions.

“The level of creativity and out of the box thinking at the collegiate level is astounding,” said John Guidi, deputy director for AES. “This challenge allows NASA to leverage these novel ideas and innovations while providing the university students—our future space professionals—hands-on design, research, development, and manufacturing experience.”

This year’s winning M2M X-Hab teams will design, manufacture, assemble, test, and demonstrate functional prototypical subsystems and innovations that enable increased functionality for human space exploration missions in the following areas:

  • Habitation Systems 
  • Vehicle Systems
  • Foundational Systems (avionics, communications and navigation systems)
  • Robotic Precursor Activities
  • Human Spaceflight Architecture Systems (Gateway-focused)

The research efforts will be conducted by multi-disciplinary teams of students during the 2021 academic year and the teams will be led by university faculty members and mentored by NASA technical experts. The 2021 M2M X-Hab Challenge winners along with their project descriptions are listed below:

University of North TexasDenton, Texas

Thermal Radiator for CO2 Deposition in Deep Space Transit

The University of North Texas is working to provide NASA innovative, reliable, and cost effective technologies for air revitalization, which is required for deep space human life support systems. Recent NASA studies show that cryogenic coolers offer cold surfaces for carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and can effectively revitalize cabin air; however, the use of cryogenic coolers consumes power at a very high rate. The team’s proposed design will use an innovative variable conductance radiator technology that promises reliable, modulated and energy-efficient heat rejection. Testing and characterization of the proposed radiator system will provide much-needed insights for further development of the air CO2 deposition system.

University of MichiganAnn Arbor, Michigan

Voice Interactions Management of Gateway

The goal of the Voice Interactions Management of Gateway project is to advance the knowledge and technology needed to successfully design a voice management interface for Gateway. The voice interface would include developing querying actions, such as ‘by crew’ and ‘to crew,’ along with the necessary command structures. The team’s aim is to design a system that allows the Gateway crew to communicate with Gateway through voice, and for the Gateway to efficiently and intuitively distribute information to the crewmembers. Each voice command will be accompanied by unique, intuitive, and relevant graphical interfaces to indicate that a voice command has been used. Implementation of the voice management system will serve as project validation and a final report will outline the approaches, methodologies, and testing results that shaped the final design.

Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas

Electric Excavator Arm for Lunar Mining and Construction

Lamar University will design, build, test and evaluate the power and speed of a 2000-pound excavation arm prototype that uses a double-acting pulley concept. The goal is to develop heavy construction and mining equipment that can move substantial amounts of material in microgravity and make processing it both viable and efficient. Current methods being used are slow and lack the robustness of traditional construction equipment used on Earth. This project aims to assist NASA in establishing a sustainable presence in deep space by eliminating the need for constant resupply missions from Earth.

North Dakota State UniversityFargo, ND

Pathbuilder Project

The Pathbuilder Project team has designed a preliminary concept for a remotely controlled solar-powered robot that can prepare flat, compacted areas on the lunar surface. The robot will have two primary functions, bulldozing and compacting, which will enable the building of structures and roads on the lunar surface. The team’s goal with this project is to lay the foundation for future civil engineering projects on the Moon while also helping NASA create a sustained human presence on the lunar surface.

Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York

Designs for Advanced Three Dimensional (3D) Printed Habitats for M2M

The goal of Pratt Institute’s project is to identify and develop common processes and advanced construction methods that will enable the use of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) materials in robotically 3D printed habitats and infrastructure for the Moon and Mars. Using NASA guidelines for human factors, habitable volume, and health and safety as a baseline, the printed designs will serve between four and six crewmembers on the first set of missions. The team will use locally sourced planetary materials in their designs and pre-integrated hardware components within their modular units.

University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland

Experimental Investigation of Minimum Crew Cabin Volumes and Configurations

The University of Maryland will investigate the effects of crew cabin size and configurations on operability, habitability and mission performance. The project will begin with the team completing the reconfigurable modular crew cabin simulator elements and initial 1-g testing. Next, the team will use underwater simulation tests to assess the effectiveness of cabin designs in conditions experienced in microgravity and on the Moon and Mars. The aim of this project is to examine multiple habitat configurations and perform a detailed comparative study of both horizontal and vertical habitat orientations for a variety of applications and gravity levels.

University of MarylandCollege Park, Maryland

Development and Testing of a Minimum-Mass Unpressurized Crewed/Autonomous Rover

The University of Maryland will investigate the design and utility of a small, unpressurized lunar rover for early human lunar missions. The rover will be small enough to fit within the limited cargo capacity of early human missions to the Moon, and will be capable of performing autonomous Earth-directed operations before the crew arrives. It will also be able to carry a single astronaut when operating under normal circumstances but will have the ability to carry two astronauts in contingency situations.  They team will perform trade studies on vehicle design and configuration, wheel-soil interactions, suspension and steering systems, and automation sensors and algorithms leading to a detailed design for a prototype rover.

The 2021 M2M X-HAB challenge supports NASA’s objectives of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024 and sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade. The ideas, approaches and designs submitted and developed by the university students are leveraged—either in part or completely—by NASA to help improve existing technologies or influence the design of new ones. The NASA mentors and competition judges are technical experts that work on a variety of NASA engineering teams such as NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraftHuman Landing System and the Gateway, and use the teams’ concepts to help address existing challenges or build upon them for use in future deep space exploration plans.

For more information about X-HAB, visit

https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/technology/deep_space_habitat/xhab