Feeds

New ISS machine makes water from waste CO2

Backup for buggy re-wee golden barrel rolled out

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
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?