UW-Madison Students Win NASA Competition Habitat Design Challenge
The UW-Madison team's Badger X-Loft prototype measures approximately 13 feet in height and 16 feet in diameter, and is well insulated and fully climate-controlled. It can be positioned on top of the NASA habitat demonstration unit laboratory to provide living space for four crewmembers for several days. The habitat also includes desks and chairs for each crewmember, porthole-styled windows and an upper loft to provide private sleeping quarters.
The UW-Madison team, led by Dr. Fred Elder, adjunct professor of mechanical engineering and engineering physics, competed against teams from Oklahoma State University and the University of Maryland. Each team received $48,000 in initial funding from the National Space Grant Foundation. The winning team has received an additional $10,000, and several team members have taken the X-Loft to northern Arizona for the annual NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) field test, in which it will be evaluated as part of a simulated astronaut mission to an asteroid.
Materials used in its construction include carbon fiber composites and aluminum to provide structural support; and several fabrics for the textile shell and the loft floor. The team received technical and other support from several companies including, among others: Frederica, Del.-based 3-D inflatable structures designer and producer ILC Dover, which provided some initial design assistance and fabricated air beams for the habitat; Delvan, Wis.-based fabric diffuser systems designer and fabricator Air Distribution Concepts, which provided sewing assistance and air circulation design advice, and supplied some of the fabrics used in the structure; Madison, Wis.-based Gallagher Tent and Awning, which made its facilities available to the team for the cutting and sewing of the fabric components and also helped with the sewing; and Madison-based Advertising Creations, which supplied banners.
According to Aaron Olson, a mechanical engineering student involved in the project, materials used in the structure had to meet several requirements, including an R8 value for the insulation and flame-retardant (FR) performance according to ASTM standards; in addition to being waterproof, as lightweight as possible and reasonably priced.
New Haven, Mo.-based Marchem CFI's Odyssey IV 300-denier acrylic-coated FR, lightweight, water-resistant, polyester fabric was used as part of the ventilation system and for the habitat's outer fabric layer. Two insulating layers consist of EcoFoil® FR aluminized polyethylene reflective insulation. The inner layer is a 70-denier polyurethane-coated FR ripstop nylon. The floor of the second level, where astronauts would sleep, is made using Marchem's 600-denier waterproof acrylic-coated polyester boat cover fabric. The air beams are made with 10-mil polyether film for the inside air bladders and 1000-denier polyurethane-coated Cordura® nylon.
August 23, 2011