Space exploration has dominated the national conversation in recent weeks with the launch of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard rocket, and the fascination does not seem to be waning.
As part of a five-year, $15 million NASA study, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), in collaboration with scientists and engineers from Purdue University, Harvard University and the University of Connecticut, is working to design space habitats that are resilient and sustainable.
The San Antonio portion of the project, led by Arturo Montoya, UTSA associate professor, is known as the Resilient Extra-Terrestrial Habitats Institute, or RETHi. Montoya expects the study will help discover new frontiers, “We’re developing all the technologies needed to eventually have this long-term space habitat,” Montoya told San Antonio Express-News. “If we keep pushing, we can be closer to actually having a space habitat that’s resilient, autonomous and can adapt to any challenge.”
Space poses challenges to structures as a result of extreme temperatures and other elements that compromise their integrity.
“You want your habitats to be resilient so they take some of the damage, but they can recover quickly,” says Montoya. “We’re trying to minimize the time that you recover —so you absorb the damage, you adapt to it and you go back to full or nearly full functionality.”
In addition to structures, the study is also evaluating robots to assist humans with maintaining and repairing space habitats. Scientists believe that these robots will ensure the safety of habitats when not manned.
While space conditions may be difficult to replicate, RETHi scientists employ physical and computer modeling for testing called cyber-physical testing with UTSA generating the computer models used in the study on a supercomputer known as “Shamu.”