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NASA is developing Heat Melt Compactor to manage trash in space

By Chennabasaveshwar
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    NASA, Aug 27: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is developing a new trash processing system to demonstrate on the International Space Station (ISS). The NSA claims that this work is critical for potential future missions traveling farther from Earth, to the Moon and Mars, and for longer periods of time.

    As per the NASA's Ames Research Center based in California, studies have estimated the amount of astronaut trash for future long duration space missions will be about one kilogram per crewmember per day. Current modes of trash disposal and waste management will not be available at the extreme durations and distances these missions will require.

    Prototype Heat Melt Compactor

    Prototype Heat Melt Compactor

    A potential trash management system for future, long-duration space missions, the current version of the Heat Melt Compactor, seen here in its ground configuration, has been tested extensively at NASA's Ames Research Center. Courtesy: @NASAAmes

    Trash management

    Trash management

    Currently, trash management involves astronauts manually compacting their trash as much as possible and storing it in stowage bags. The most common way of "taking out the trash" is then to fill a spacecraft, such as a Northrop Grumman Cygnus or a Russian Progress, that delivered research experiments and supplies to the station and let it burn up during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. This is feasible for the space station, since it's relatively close to our planet, orbiting only a couple of hundred miles above us.

    However, for longer-distance space missions without the frequent resupply missions that also provide crew members with trash receptacles, dealing with garbage will be more challenging. Courtesy: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart

    International Space Station

    International Space Station

    Another factor driving the development of a new trash processing system is that garbage actually contains valuable resources. As we travel deeper into space, it's imperative to reuse and recycle as much as possible, since it's costly to launch all the supplies and materials needed for a mission to the Moon or Mars. NASA's new trash processing system in development, the Heat Melt Compactor, will provide not only a way to safely manage garbage within a spacecraft but also a way to recover water and other resources from trash that will then be available for reuse.

    The current Heat Melt Compactor has been tested extensively on Earth. The next steps will be to select a group to build an updated version of this technology and then to test it in space, aboard the International Space Station, in preparation for use on future missions to the Moon and Mars. Courtesy: PTI file photo

    NASA's Ames Research Center in California

    NASA's Ames Research Center in California

    The current, prototype Heat Melt Compactor system is designed to compact everyday astronaut trash into nine-inch square "tiles" that take up less than one-eighth of the original trash volume. The compacted trash is then heated to 150 degrees Celsius (more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit) to sterilize the material, boil off water and vent off noxious gases. The gases could be released to the vacuum of space or can be processed into safe gases that can be released into the spacecraft's air revitalization system. The water that boils off can be recovered for onboard needs, and the tiles - free of bacterial growth and undesirable smells - can be used for radiation shielding. Imagine using dry trash tiles to line the interior of a radiation storm shelter for increased safety! Courtesy: Ames Research Center

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