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NASA Asks University Teams for Moon, Mars Mission Design Ideas

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 7, 2021
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WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA, in collaboration with the National Space Grant Foundation, is seeking university teams to develop innovative design ideas that could assist in the agency’s Moon to Mars exploration objectives.

The 2022 Moon to Mars eXploration Systems and Habitation (M2M X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for NASA to build strategic partnerships and tap into the ingenuity of rising Artemis Generation space explorers. This challenge provides university students interested in aerospace careers hands-on design, research, and development experience, while strengthening NASA’s efforts to develop technologies and capabilities for enable future human missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division is offering multiple competitively selected awards, ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, for the development of studies, functional products, and solutions related the NASA’s Moon to Mars space exploration missions. Proposals are due May 23, 2021.

M2M X-Hab 2022 Academic Innovation Challenge encompasses six topic areas:

  • Crew Mobility Systems: Systems to enable the crew to conduct “hands-on” surface exploration and in-space operations, including portable life support systems, and extravehicular activity tools.
  • Habitation Systems: Habitation systems provide a safe place for astronauts to live and work in space and on planetary surfaces. They enable crews to execute missions safely in deep space, and include integrated life support systems, radiation protection, fire safety, and systems to reduce logistics and the need for resupply missions.
  • Vehicle Systems: Vehicle systems include human and robotic exploration vehicles, including advanced in-space propulsion, extensible lander technology, modular power systems, and automated propellant loading on the ground and on planetary surfaces.
  • Foundational Systems: Foundational systems provide more efficient mission and ground operations and those that allow for more earth independence. These systems foster autonomous mission operations, in-situ resource utilization, in-space manufacturing, communication technologies, and synthetic biology applications.
  • Robotic Precursor Activities: Robotic missions and payloads acquire strategic knowledge about potential destinations for human exploration. They inform systems development, including prospecting for lunar ice, characterizing the Mars surface radiation environment, radar imaging of near-Earth asteroids, instrument development, and research and analysis.
  • Human Spaceflight Architecture Systems (Gateway-focused): Gateway establishes a platform to mature necessary short- and long-duration deep space exploration capabilities. It will be assembled in a lunar orbit where it can be used as a staging point for missions to the lunar surface and destinations in deep space, providing a flexible human exploration architecture. Gateway can be evolved for different mission needs (exploration, science, commercial and international partner utilization). Initial functionality will include several two elements: the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). Additional early elements will include expanded habitation capability, two airlock elements (one to enable human Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVA), one to house science hardware and experiments), utilization, and required logistics element(s). The element containing a science airlock will also house additional propellant storage and advanced lunar telecommunications capabilities.

Previous challenges resulted in products NASA tested and evaluated for use in deep space. The products and technologies developed or produced by university teams for the M2M X-Hab 2022 challenge may be improved upon for next-generation exploration systems and may eventually provide the basis for future flight demonstrations and exploration missions.

As part of the Artemis program, NASA is leading a sustainable return to the Moon with commercial and international partners to expand human presence in space and bring back new knowledge and opportunities. Key components of the exploration campaign that will send astronauts to the Moon and beyond are currently in development, including NASA’s most powerful rocket yet, the Space Launch System, along with the Orion spacecraft, Gateway, and human landing system.

View the full M2M X-Hab 2022 Academic Innovation Challenge call for proposals:

To view past X-Hab challenge projects, visit:

4 responses to “NASA Asks University Teams for Moon, Mars Mission Design Ideas”

  1. ThomasLMatula says:

    Good start on programs that are needed to move settlement technology forward.

    • Billgamesh says:

      This needs to be narrowed down to only the Moon. Including Mars is a distraction and waste of resources. The moon is where all the funding should go for the immediate future. Once we establish a presence on the moon and can build supplies and vehicles from its resources only then we can go exploring. Mars is not a good destination for any purpose. Ceres and the ocean moons of the gas and ice giants are where our future lies. Mars is a dead end.

      • duheagle says:

        NASA will continue to do science on Mars, but it won’t contribute much, financially or otherwise, to the settlement of the place. That will be done mainly by Elon Musk. Perhaps Mars will eventually turn out to be more like Deadwood, SD than Los Angeles, CA, but that verdict is unlikely to be decisively rendered in our lifetimes – perhaps not even in Musk’s.

        Ceres and the ocean moons of the gas and ice giants will certainly play major roles in humanity’s future in space, but they will hardly be the only places that do so.

        • Billgamesh says:

          I stopped reading as soon as you said Elon Musk. I’ve heard the NewSpace infomercial before and it is all the same old lies. Musk has been the biggest obstacle to any progress in space. He made the Moon verboten for a decade, he is against space-based solar power because he can’t corner the market like he can on Earth and his starlink smallsat megaconstellation scam is strip mining Earth orbit.

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