Feeds

New ISS machine makes water from waste CO2

Backup for buggy re-wee golden barrel rolled out

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Thirsty astronauts orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have just gained a handy new source of water to eke out supplies shipped up from Earth and those from the station's famously erratic urine recycling system.

The new Sabatier Reactor, named for the Nobel prize-winning French chemist who developed the process it uses, will combine hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce water and methane.

The station's life support machinery generates oxygen to keep the crew alive by splitting water. Astronauts breathe the oxygen and emit CO2, which is removed from the internal atmosphere by scrubber machinery and - at the moment - thrown away.

The hydrogen from the oxygen generators is currently also dumped into space as waste, but will now be combined with CO2 from the scrubbers to reclaim useful water. According to Hamilton Sundstrand Space Land & Sea, makers of the reactor, it should produce almost a tonne of water every year. The reactor was delivered to the station by space shuttle Discovery, which will undock for return to Earth tomorrow.

In addition to oxygen generation, the ISS also needs water for drinking, washing, cooking and cooling some electronic equipment. Historically about half the station's requirements were met by recycling used water, and the rest by deliveries from visiting space shuttles. The shuttles didn't normally need to use up payload space for this, as their fuel-cell electric generators produce clean water as an exhaust product.

With the recent doubling of the ISS crew to six people and the imminent disappearance of the shuttles, the station needs to recycle as much water as it possibly can so as to save payload space on flights up from Earth. A trouble-plagued $250m barrel-shaped centrifugal Urine Processor Assembly has been installed to purify astronauts' and cosmonauts' personal wastes, in addition to existing kit which processed airborne sweat and domestic "grey water".

Now the Sabatier Reactor is ready to start doing its bit. The machine was supplied by Hamilton Sundstrand under a novel contract based on the amount of water it actually produces. Announcing the deal two years ago, NASA spokesmen stated:

NASA will not buy hardware, but instead will purchase the water service. If the system does not work, NASA will not pay for it.

If the reactor works, Hamilton Sundstrand could receive up to $65m by 2014.

The potential exists to refine the process further and break the Sabatier reactor's methane exhaust into carbon and hydrogen. In that case the hydrogen would be reclaimed - perhaps for use as a fuel, or for feeding back into the water loop by combination with surplus oxygen or CO2 as might suit. The only waste product then would be carbon (originating from the astronauts' food supplies) deposited in the reactor as graphite. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.