NASA has reached a technological milestone that could one day play an important role in missions to the Moon and beyond. This week, the space agency (via ) that the International Space Station’s ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support System) recycles 98% of the water that astronauts bring on board the station. Functionally, you can imagine the system working similarly to the Stillsuits described in Frank Herbert’s . Part of the ECLSS uses “advanced dehumidifiers” to capture the moisture that station crew breathe in and sweat out during their daily duties.
Another subsystem, imaginatively named “Urine Processor Assembly”, collects what astronauts pee using vacuum distillation. According to NASA, the distillation process produces water and a urine brine that still contains recoverable H20. The agency recently began testing a new device capable of extracting water remaining in brine, and it is thanks to this system that NASA has observed a 98% water recovery rate on the ISS. , whereas previously the station recycled about 93 to 94% of the water. water astronauts were bringing aboard.
“This is a very important step forward in the evolution of life support systems,” said NASA’s Christopher Brown, who is part of the team that manages life support systems for the International Space Station. “Let’s say you collect 100 pounds of water from the station. You lose two pounds of it and the other 98% just keeps going around in circles. Maintaining this functioning is a rather impressive achievement.
If the thought of someone else drinking their urine makes you gag, don’t worry. “The treatment is basically similar to some terrestrial water delivery systems, just done in microgravity,” said Jill Williamson, NASA ECLSS water subsystems manager. “The crew don’t drink urine; they drink water that has been collected, filtered and cleaned so that it is cleaner than what we drink here on Earth.
According to Williamson, systems like the ECLSS will be essential as NASA conducts more missions beyond Earth orbit. “The less water and oxygen we have to ship, the more science we can add to the launcher,” Williamson said. “Reliable and robust regeneration systems mean the crew doesn’t have to worry about it and can concentrate on the true objective of their mission.”