Stillwater News Press

OSU Update

May 27, 2011

Oklahoma State University students build space habitat for NASA competition

STILLWATER, Okla. — A team of Oklahoma State University students have created an inflatable structure for use in space as part of a NASA-funded competition.

OSU is one of three universities given a $40,000 grant to create a self-deploying inflatable habitat loft on top of a hard shell lab designed by NASA. The inflatable loft is two levels that are used as sleeping quarters and meeting spaces. When deflated, it will fit inside the hard shell lab.

“The concept is to have something in a really small space that can pop up into a large volume,” said Jamey Jacob, faculty adviser.

The entire unit is designed to withstand conditions on the moon, which include radiation, extreme temperatures and micro meteors, while sustaining winds of 50 mph. The unit also has to inflate in a specified amount of time.

About 67 students contributed to project X-Hab since September, Jacob said. On June 3, a team of students working on the project will visit NASA with the completed structure. It will be tested June 6-10 along with the designs of the other schools — the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland.

Results will be announced by the late June or early July, said Cory Sudduth, the team leader. The winning team will receive an additional $10,000 grant for further testing in the Arizona desert.

Sudduth said the technology of inflatable habitats has been used occasionally in the military for medical tents and aircraft hangers but never in space. NASA plans to redesign the winning project with stronger substances and use it in the next 10 to 15 years in part because it offers a compact and light weight alternative, he said.

“NASA is learning from what we are doing here,” said Sudduth, who has worked on the project since the beginning. “It’s a starting point to increase that technology.”

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