A breakthrough was made by astronauts on board the International Space Station, who struck peak astronaut pee recycling and were able to recover 98% of the water they used.
The accomplishment of water recycling is a significant milestone for low-orbit space missions that seek to meet the astronauts' fundamental needs without the need for resupply missions. This refers to reusing or renewing resources like food, air, and water.
Each crew member on the International Space Station (ISS) requires roughly one gallon of water each day for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene needs like brushing their teeth. The ideal water recovery rate for longer missions has been 98% of the initial water that personnel carry into space with them.
Christopher Brown, a member of the Johnson Space Centre team that oversees the ISS's life support systems, stated in a statement, "This is a very important step forward in the evolution of life support systems. Let's say you launch with 100 pounds of water. You lose 2 pounds of that, and the other 98% just keeps going around and around. Keeping that running is a pretty awesome achievement."
The upgraded Urine Processor Assembly (UPA), which recovers water from urine via vacuum distillation, was shown by the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) to reach the water recovery milestone.
The ECLSS is composed of a variety of hardware, such as a Water Recovery System that gathers wastewater and sophisticated dehumidifiers that draw moisture from the air of the ISS as a result of the crew members' breath and perspiration. The Water Processor Assembly (WPA), which creates drinkable water, receives this collected water.
ECLSS water subsystems manager Jill Williamson stated, "Before the BPA, our total water recovery was between 93 and 94% overall. We have now demonstrated that we can reach a total water recovery of 98%, thanks to the brine processor."
The BPA uses the UPA-created brine and introduces it to dry air that evaporates its water content by passing it through a series of specialised membranes. ECLSS dehumidifiers can be used to capture the humid air that is produced as a result, which is comparable to the ISS crew members' breath.
A series of specialised filters and a catalytic reactor are used by the WPA to treat this wastewater, together with other collected wastewater, to remove any remaining trace contaminants. The water is then tested for purity using sensors, and any samples that don't pass muster are returned for further processing. Acceptable water is treated with iodine to stop the formation of bacteria, and the water is then kept for use by the crew.
If this prompts the query, "Are our astronauts drinking urine in space?" The answer is obvious: definitely not. The crew claims that the water generated on board the ISS is superior to that generated by municipal water systems on Earth.
Williamson noted, "The processing is fundamentally similar to some terrestrial water distribution systems, just done in microgravity. The crew is not drinking urine; they are drinking water that has been reclaimed, filtered, and cleaned such that it is cleaner than what we drink here on Earth."
The ECLSS systems are rigorously tested to make sure they work as intended and to show that each component can last for a long time without a lot of upkeep or replacement spare parts.
The 98% milestone is encouraging for upcoming space missions that would involve crewed journeys to Mars and extended stays on the moon's surface, during which astronauts will spend more time in space.
Williamson remarked, "The regenerative ECLSS systems become ever more important as we go beyond low Earth orbit. The inability to resupply during exploration means we need to be able to reclaim all the resources the crew needs on these missions.
He concluded, "The less water and oxygen we have to ship up, the more science that can be added to the launch vehicle. Reliable, robust regenerative systems mean the crew doesn’t have to worry about it and can focus on the true intent of their mission."
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