Right now, the crews on board the International Space Station consist of three people. But by late next year, the crew size will grow to six. That means more food, more water and ultimately more waste. But NASA has been working on a recycling system to transform urine and other liquid wastes into water that can be used in space for drinking, food preparation and washing. Agency officials say the water from the system will be cleaner than U.S. tap water. Not only does this help manage wastes on board the station, but its also a cost-saving measure. Water is heavy and launching it on board the shuttle or Progress re-supply ship is expensive.
The Water Recovery System recycles liquid wastes — which can consist of urine, sweat, or leftover water used for bathing or food preparation — by filtering it through a series of chemical processes and filters, making it safe to drink. Urine, for example, first passes through a distillation process to separate the liquid phase from the gaseous phase, after which it is mixed with other water waste and is treated with the help of a water processor.
After removing the remnant gaseous and solid phases, the liquid is filtered for additional purification and undergoes a high-temperature catalytic reaction, in order to destroy unwanted organic contaminants.
The system is scheduled to be brought to the ISS on the STS-126 mission, planned to launch this fall.
“Recycling will be an essential part of daily life for future astronauts, whether on board the space station or living on the Moon. Delivering this hardware is an important step in achieving the station’s full potential, allowing for additional crew members and more scientific research”, said NASA’s station program manager, Mike Suffredini.
Recycling will reduce the amount of consumables needed on board the space station by as much as 6,800 kilograms per year.