In preparation for Mars and Moon colonization missions, NASA is looking to develop autonomous habitats that can be used in space. These habitats will be designed to remain operational even after astronauts leave to return to Earth.

For the innovative project, NASA has teamed up with researchers from various universities to develop a Space Technology Research Institute known as Habitats Optimized for Missions of Exploration (HOME). NASA awarded the project with a funding of $15 million and intends to support it for five years.

According to Mario Berges, an associated professor from the Carnegie Mellon University and head of the research team, HOME will make use of automated systems to ensure that it will function properly even if left unattended in space for a long time.

“Space is harsh and errors can be catastrophic, so we need autonomous systems that are very good,” he said in a statement.

To create an autonomous system, the researchers will turn to artificial intelligence (AI). They intend to use AI in order to first analyze the power consumption in the space habitats. Once enough data has been collected, they’ll be able to create a system can easily monitor electrical consumption and power failures.

By combining AI with robotic systems, Berges and his colleagues believe they’ll be able to create space-ready habitats that can function by itself. More importantly, the habitats will have the necessary features in order to conduct maintenance procedures on itself. This will be a crucial aspect of HOME especially when astronauts or colonists head back to Earth.

“How do you conduct automated fault detection and diagnosis without a lot of system data?” Berges said. “This is where AI comes in. We have machines that learn by themselves if you give them enough data, but we don’t have a lot of machines that can reason by using existing engineering knowledge, which can reduce the amount of data they need.”

If all goes well for the research team, the concept behind the HOME project could make its debut on Gateway, NASA’s future space station that will orbit the Moon.