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October 23, 2018
Rendering of CPP-HAB prototype

A group of 65 Cal Poly Pomona students accepted the NASA eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge and designed and built a functional, innovative prototype that increases functionality for human space exploration missions.


The Mars habitation module (CPP-HAB), created by students in architecture and civil engineering classes, was inspired by a ‘roly poly’ bug and funded by a $30,000 competitive NASA grant.


The CPP-HAB “was selected for demonstration with virtual reality and a physical mockup because it showcased a unique strategy for mobility and transformation of the surface habitat,” according to the NASA X-Hab website.


Cal Poly Pomona was one of only four teams that “conducted studies and developed partial system mockups featuring commonalities among Mars transit and surface habitat designs.”


Since it was completed in May, CPP-HAB has been presented at five professional conferences. Its final stop was the 2018 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space Forum in Orlando, Fla., in mid-September.


The challenge was to design a strategy for commonality between an interplanetary vehicle (IPV) spaceship and a Mars surface habitat accommodating the planet’s partial gravity. The CPP-HAB has fully adaptable and reconfigurable parts contained within a lander-sized canister. Once the canister is deployed on the Martian surface, four pod-shaped modules are released and can roll themselves to the designated site. The crew arrives in a separate lander as the pods open. Once pressurized, the crew will move from the lander to the pods.


Quarter-scale mock-up in unrolled position.
Quarter-scale mock-up in unrolled position.

Essentially, the transformation via the pods unrolling makes it possible for the habitat used to travel to Mars to be used as living space on the planet, just in a different configuration. In this way, the crewmembers will be familiar with the layout, function and location throughout the expedition.


The design addresses critical aspects such as the structural integrity and a sound propulsion system necessary to withstand space travel; functionality on zero-gravity and in the Martian gravitational environment; mobility on the planet surface; radiation shielding and weightlessness response, said Professor Michael Fox, who taught the Architecture Topic Studio and served as the project lead.


Each pod unrolls to 30.4 meters in length, 4 meters in width and 4.5 meters high. Once connected, the habitat encompasses a greenhouse, laboratory, medical bay, kitchen, gym, hygiene room, two bedrooms, a leisure/conference room, the control room and life support system. The pods can be connected in various ways including end-to-end or perpendicular to each other to make a larger connected habitation system.


Small-scale robotics were used on a miniature scale model to test unrolling and mobility on a “replicated” Martian terrain. Finally, a full-scale prototype was constructed using hollow section tubes, plywood sheathing, and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) fabric – a durable, weather-resistant woven fiberglass membrane coated in Teflon.  The prototype was then developed using an immersive Augmented Reality (AR) and refined with full Virtual Reality (VR) models of the rolled and unrolled habitats.


The CPP-HAB project team included Assistant Professor Marc Schulitz, from the architecture department as co-principal investigator and Lecturer Mikhail Gershfeld from civil engineering department, with mentoring from the firms Astrotecture Gehry Technologies and Design Technology/HNTB Architecture. For more information about CPP-HAB at the AIAA Space Forum, visit

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