NASA enlists academia to develop autonomous space habitats

As NASA faces pressure to get astronauts to the Moon and considers human exploration of Mars, it will need to sort out a few major details — like how to keep extraterrestrial habitats functioning even when there aren’t any human occupants. To do this, NASA selected two new, university-led Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) and tasked them with developing automated Smart Habitats, or SmartHabs.

One, the Habitats Optimized for Missions of Exploration (HOME), will develop autonomous systems, machine learning, robotic maintenance and onboard manufacturing for autonomous and self-maintained smart habitats. The HOME team includes researchers from the University of California, Davis; University of Colorado Boulder, Carnegie Mellon University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, Texas A&M University and the University of Southern California — as well as Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin and United Technology Aerospace Systems.

The other STRI, Resilient ExtraTerrestrial Habitats institute (RETHi), will focus on SmartHabs that use autonomous robotics to adapt and recover from disruptions. That team is comprised of Purdue University, University of Connecticut, Harvard University and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Both teams will receive up to $15 million over a five-year period, and they could help us envision what longer-term stays on the Moon and Mars will look like.

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