NASA Selects UTSA to be Part of an Institute to Create Smart Habitats for the Moon and Mars

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Illustration of the interior of a deep space habitat, Credits: NASA

University of Texas at San Antonio Associate Professor Arturo Montoya is a civil engineer and an expert on how earthquakes and hurricanes impact bridges and buildings.

It’s that expertise that attracted Purdue University principal investigator Shirley Dyke to ask him to collaborate on the Resilient Extra-Terrestrial Habitats Institute for NASA to explore building homes and other structures on the Moon and MARS.

No matter what they encounter in space, the crew has to be prepared to respond to it, Montoya said. And it is his job and others at UTSA to think up worst case scenarios and then subject model buildings to them to see how they hold up. And in space, they are dealing with a whole lot of other factors than on earth like zero gravity, Montoya said. The UTSA research will use computational models and physical models to study adverse conditions on the Moon and Mars and how that might affect various structures.

The five-year project, which involves Purdue University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Connecticut and Harvard University will receive $15 million in funding.

The new institute “will design and operate resilient deep space habitats that can adapt, absorb and rapidly recover from expected and unexpected disruptions,” according to NASA.

NASA just awarded the project this week to create two new Space Technology Research Institutes.

The other project is called Habitats Optimized for Missions of Exploration, or HOME. That project is led by Stephen Robinson, principal investigator at the University of California, Davis. He is working in partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, Carnegie Mellon University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, Texas A&M University and the University of Southern California. Industry collaborators include Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin and United Technology Aerospace Systems.

The two new institutes will help to develop technologies that are “critical to a sustainable human presence on theMoon and Mars,” according to NASA. “The smart habitat, or SmartHab, research will complement other NASA projects to help mature the mission architecture needed to meet challenging exploration goals.”

“Partnering with universities lets us tap into new expertise, foster innovative ideas, as well as expand the research and development talent base for both aerospace and broader applications,” Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a news release. “We’re excited to work with these two new STRIs to develop smart habitat technologies for exploration missions on the Moon and Mars.”

Arturo Montoya,
an associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio with dual appointments in the Department of Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering

At the University of Texas at San Antonio, Montoya said he expects to build scaled-down models of habitats for Mars and the Moon and then subject them to radiation, sudden impacts like those a structure in space might encounter from meteorites, extreme heat, and cold and other adverse conditions to see how the structures hold up.

“It’s a very exciting project,” Montoya said.

UTSA graduate students and undergraduate students will also be involved, Montoya said. And they will work closely with Purdue University and the others involved in the project, he said.