testU-M BliSS Team Win NASA X-Hab Grants

This past May, NASA selected the U-M BLiSS (Bioastronautics and Life Support Systems) team to participate in their annual eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge for the second consecutive year. Climate & Space Professor Nilton Renno is Principal Investigator for the X-Hab projects at the U-M.

BLiSS is a student-run research team founded in 2015 by Daniil Abramov to design, build and test deep-space habitat prototype technology. The team is comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students from multiple disciplines at the university.The team conducts work and research in Professor Renno’s lab in the Space Research Building (Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering) on the North Campus of the University of Michigan.

The BLisSS team was among eleven universities selected this year to receive grants intended to "strengthen [NASA]’s deep space exploration capabilities, including habitation systems needed for an extended human presence beyond Earth’s orbit.” The team was awarded $40,000 in grants to fund the staff, design, fabrication, and testing of two projects for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year.

From the Space Grant Foundation site:

“The eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) 2018 Academic Innovation Challenge is a university-level challenge designed to develop strategic partnerships and collaborations with universities… The competition is intended to link with senior- and graduate-level design curricula that emphasize hands-on design, research, development, and manufacturing of functional prototypical subsystems that enable functionality for space habitats and deep-space exploration missions. NASA will directly benefit from the challenge by sponsoring the development of innovative concepts and technologies from universities, which will result in novel ideas and solutions that could be applied to exploration…”

The projects:

Mars Habitat Commonality
The U-M BliSS team is one of four university teams tasked with developing a Mars Habitat. In this project (led by Robert Gitten, MEng, Space Systems Engineering), students will create a habitation system that shares common features with in-space and surface habitat designs. This commonality is intended to increase efficiency in the living environment’s development process, and enable the crew to become familiar with the habitat’s layout and functionality before arrival on Mars. (Note: This project is separate from the Mars 2117 project that the Michigan BLiSS team is developing for the University of Michigan's Campus of the Future project)

3-D Printed Plant Growth Substrate
Creating a sustainable food supply is a critical component for deep space exploration on ongoing off-Earth habitation, and the ability to grow fresh food in space is essential to the habitat’s success. In this project (led by Sam Nuzbrokh, MEng, Space Systems Engineering), students will design and build a substrate prototype (using 3-D printing) to help achieve effective plant growth in a microgravity environment.

Last year, the team was awarded a $15,000 grant for their AURA (Astronaut Urine Repurposing Analysis) project (led by Adrian Arteaga, MEng, Space Systems Engineering). As the name suggests, the team is working toward finding an efficient method of converting human wastewater into a usable product in the space environment. This project will continue for another year, and he team is currently running experiments using electrodialysis along with chemical separation to help purify the fluid “leaving behind what is essentially drinking water,” says team member Robert Gitten. He adds that NASA is hopeful “that this may be a more efficient way of recovering water from urine especially compared to the system currently on ISS.”

Throughout the coming year, the BLiSS team will work directly with a team of NASA scientists and engineers to design and create each of the project prototypes. NASA will evaluate the prototypes in May 2018.