2017 RASC-AL Themes
NASA is embracing new paradigms in exploration that involve expanding our knowledge and learning how to live in space as we extend our presence into the solar system. The 2017 RASC-AL Competition is seeking undergraduate and graduate teams to develop new concepts that leverage innovations to improve our ability to work more effectively in microgravity. This year’s themes range from the design of more efficient subsystems to the development of architectures that support NASA’s goal of extending humanity’s reach into space. Collaboration with commercial partners will be required to enable this vision, and teams are encouraged to propose to augment NASA investments (or use in conjunction with) those from commercial and/or international partners. Each team’s response should address novel and robust applications to support expanding humanity’s ability to thrive beyond Earth.

Lightweight Exercise Suite

Given a total mass limit of 500 kg that can be used in a module of 3 to 5 m in diameter, design a lightweight exercise suite for long duration space missions in microgravity. In addition to the layout and design of the system, proposals must describe the power and data demands the exercise suite will require, as well as how to mitigate any vibrational loads resulting from use of the exercise equipment (if necessary). Repair and maintenance issues should also be accounted for in the design. Teams will propose an exercise suite that will:

  • Substantially reduce mass over the current state-of-the-art International Space Station (ISS) system (target mass = <500 kg) without substantially increasing power requirements.
  • Provide a detailed and adequate volume envelope needed for all of the operational modes of the exercise equipment (i.e., width and depth considerations required for both packaging/launch as well as deployment and daily use).
  • Address a comprehensive analysis of health benefits to astronauts.
  • Be available for incorporation into advanced habitats by 2025.

Airlock Design

Design an airlock system that can be incorporated or attached to a deep space habitat by 2021. The airlock should be designed for a minimum lifetime of 15 years in a deep space environment. To support maintenance and repair operations, the system should be able to accommodate a maximum extravehicular activity (EVA) rate of one 2-person, 8-hour EVA every day for up to 3 consecutive days, every 30 days. Maintenance needs, including replacement parts, should be adequately addressed and designs must include incipient failure warning detection and alarm system. Proposals should provide a clear description of pre-EVA and post-EVA operations and their effect on the airlock or attached vehicles. One of the airlock’s functions will be to test advanced EVA suit technologies as precursors to Moon and Mars surface missions. Proposals should evaluate whether the airlock is launched with the habitat or launched separately, and what kind of launch vehicle is necessary for delivery. The proposal should describe the layout of the airlock, along with the master equipment list and power budget. The proposers are expected to trade key capability drivers such as: the use of inflatables vs. hard-shells, metallic vs. composite structures; the degree of closure of Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) technology; and the use of suitport or ISS style interfaces.

Commercially Enabled LEO/Mars Habitable Module

In the near future, NASA will require a habitable module in low Earth orbit (LEO) after the International Space Station (ISS) is no longer available. Because NASA is investing in technology that can be utilized in multiple destinations, this module should also have application for Mars transit missions. Develop a common module for commercial use in LEO that is designed for a minimum lifetime of 15 years in LEO, the design of which is also extensible to use as a Mars transit vehicle. Proposals should identify the key changes, upgrades, and expansions required for the transition. Concept of operations (CONOPS) and the architectural layout of the module must be fully described in the proposal. The module should be available for launch to LEO by 2022. The use of ISS as a testing platform is not required, but teams may do so, if desired. Teams will submit proposals that include:

  • A description of commercial LEO applications enabled by the facility and an associated business model supported by those activities, assuming NASA is an anchor tenant for some duration of the module’s lifetime.
  • A description of the system modifications necessary such that an updated version can be used as a Mars transit vehicle.
  • Interior layout, master equipment list, and power budget
  • An in depth description of module subsystems including:
    • environmental control
    • life support
    • thermal
    • structures
    • power
    • crew accommodations
    • commercial operations hardware
    • avionics (including guidance, navigation, vehicle control, communication)

Logistics Delivery System

Once NASA and commercial partners have successfully established new habitable volumes in space for future exploration missions, a cargo carrier will be needed to deliver equipment and supplies. Design a logistics delivery system (i.e., module) to support future habitats located in cis-lunar space that is available for use by 2023, including capacity, systems and cargo packaging, launch vehicle packaging, and systems required to allow rendezvous and docking/berthing with the habitat. The module (at a minimum) should have the capacity to support a 30 day mission, with options ranging up to supporting a 360 day mission for a crew of four in cis-lunar space. Proposals should include:

  • Interior layout, master equipment list, and power budget
  • Full description of the operations from launch to off-loading in cis-lunar space, including propellant and trajectory requirements
  • Launch vehicle selection, and packaging within launch vehicle fairing
  • A propulsion bus design to transport logistics to and rendezvous with a vehicle in cis-lunar space

Notes for RASC-AL Projects

  • Proposed designs should be consistent with human spacecraft requirements addressed in NASA Technical Standards 3000 and 3001 and NASA’s Human Integration Design Handbook, and the physiological countermeasures identified in NASA standards should be addressed.
      • 3000 and 3001 are available on (Select “NASA Technical Standards” from the left-hand navigation bar.
      • HIDH is on

For all RASC-AL projects, attention should be given to:

  • Synergistic applications of NASA’s planned current investments.
  • Supporting engineering analysis.
  • Unique combinations of the planned elements with new innovative capabilities/technologies to support crewed and robotic exploration of the solar system.
  • Realistic assessment of costs for technology maturation, system development, and production and operations.

Key elements that each RASC-AL project will be evaluated on include:

  • Adherence to the requirements and constraints of the selected topic and the design competition;
  • Synergistic application and supporting original engineering analysis of innovative capabilities and/or new technologies for evolutionary architecture development to enable future missions, reduce cost, or improve safety;
  • Technical merit and rationale of mission operations in support of an exciting and sustainable space exploration program;
  • Key technologies, including technology readiness levels (TRLs), as well as the systems engineering and architectural trades that guide the recommended approach;
  • Reliability and human safety consideration in trading various design options;
  • Realistic assessment of project plan and execution of that plan, including a project schedule and test plan, as well as realistic development and annual operating costs (i.e., budget);
  • Realistic assessment of partnering and cost sharing scenarios based upon commercial profitability and the ability of international partners to participate given their limited budgets.