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An Inside Look at the Water/Urine Recycling System on the Space Station

International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield “lifts the lid” on the Water Recovery System, the first liquid recycling system to be flown in space that cleans almost all the “water” (greywater, urine, sweat) produced by crew members so that it can be used again. As previous space station resident Don Pettit has said, “Yesterday’s coffee becomes today’s coffee.”

Previously, Russia’s space station Mir recycled cosmonaut’s sweat, but this system on the ISS can recycle about 93 percent of the liquids it receives. The ISS’s water recycler uses a distiller that looks like a keg. On Earth, distilling is a simple process of boiling water and cooling the steam back into pure water. But without gravity, the contaminants in water never separate from the steam no matter how much heat is used. So, the keg-sized distiller spins to produce an artificial gravity field while boiling the water. The contaminants in the urine or greywater press against the sides of the drum while the steam gathers in the middle and is pumped to a filter.

NASA's Water Recovery System. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Water Recovery System. Credit: NASA

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Astroraider April 26, 2013, 7:54 PM

    Does anyone ever proofread these articles???

    Specifically: “water produced by crew member produces so” ,,, produced … produces … a real brain fart if I ever saw one!

    and there is atrocious grammar too …

    “Previously, Russia’s space station Mir recycled cosmonaut’s sweat, but this system on the ISS can recycle about 93 percent of the water it receives.” … to what does “THIS” refer? One would assume from the sentence as written that “this” refers to the sytem on Mirr that is also used on ISS and somehow it magically recycles more than sweat??? Probably, replacing THIS with THE might more correctly reflect the author’s intent.

    There are so many other examples in this article.

    Basically, poor writing. Bad Grammar, Wordy Sentences, References that don’t make sense if you are not familiar with the subject.

  • Astroraider April 26, 2013, 8:37 PM

    If I might ….

    This might be a better way of writing the article:

    International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield “lifts
    the lid” on the Water Recovery System. The ISS Water Recovery System is the
    first liquid recycling system to be flown in space. It cleans almost all the
    water produced by crew member so it can used again and again … Previous space
    station resident Don Pettit said, “Yesterday’s coffee becomes today’s coffee.”

    When Russia’s space station Mir was in orbit, cosmonaut’s
    sweat was recycled. The Water Recover System on ISS recycles about 93 percent
    of all the water it receives, mostly in the form of urine. Distilling water on
    Earth is a simple process of boiling contaminated water and trapping then cooling
    or condensing the rising steam into pure water. In space, the lack of gravity
    prevents the separation of the steam from the contaminated water. The ISS Water
    Recovery System uses a keg-sized distiller that spins causing the contaminated
    liquid water to press against the sides of the drum while the steam gathers in
    the center and can be pumped off to recover clean water.

  • Aqua4U April 26, 2013, 8:51 PM

    Centrifugal drum eh? I wonder how much mass it holds? Does it’s spin create gyroscopic forces that have to be dealt with? Is the centrifugal drum’s spin axis pointed toward the nadir? or transversely? or with a polar or solar orientation?

  • "Me" April 26, 2013, 9:23 PM

    The average person just does not think of bodily functions or gravity in space. In the movies/TV you do not see/hear people going to the men/woman-rooms or see people walking around in their space-ship like they are on earth. There are also other things just taken for granted. PEACE!

    • kkt April 26, 2013, 11:09 PM

      In 2001, A Space Odyssey the bureaucrat traveling from earth to the moon stops to read the instructions on the 0 gravity toilet.

      • "Me" April 26, 2013, 11:16 PM

        I remember the 2001 S.Od. movie years ago. But do not remember the 0 gravity toilet instructions shot. Forgetfulness I suspect. Regardless. 99.% of Hollywood DO NOT show, talk, or even suggest toilets or gravity etc.. . You know that, I know that as well as the rest of the population TV/movie watchers world….take care.. .

  • R. E. Hunter April 26, 2013, 10:16 PM

    Interesting. I never thought about the fact that you can’t distill without gravity, because the steam won’t rise.

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