Date: 10, June, 2019
Written by: Joana Reis
What Happens To The Trash Made In Space - NASA Recycling In Space Challenge And Winners
According to the company NineSigma, one single team of astronauts during one year mission produce about 2.500 kg of waste. Most of it includes foam, paper, nitrile gloves, food packaging, fabric scrap, hygienic wipes, low- and high-density plastics, and human waste.
NASA wants to change that.
"Along with a commitment to explore and pioneer, comes a commitment to use the resources at our disposal fully, efficiently and responsibly," said Anne Meier, a research engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
This is what led NASA to start a partnership with NineSigma and create a Recycling in Space Challenge. In this challenge, people had to come up with sustainable ways of processing and feeding space trash into a high-temperature reactor. This is crucial due to the danger of discharged space debris to spacecraft. Astronauts also have little space in their living quarters, so dealing with trash is a constant struggle. Especially when the environment we're talking about has almost zero gravity.
By finding clever methods to deal with space trash, NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems and Space technology programs will be able to recycle waste and convert it into useful gases.
The challenge received submissions from around the globe and participants had to take into account several factors, such as:
- Absence of gravity,
- Space available in living quarters,
- Sound level created,
- Consume of power, oxygen and water, and finally
- Crew safety.
NASA Tournament Lab crowdsourcing challenge had judges to evaluate different types of solutions. From the participants, one first place and two-second place winners were selected.
And the Recycling in Space challenge winners are (*drums sound*):
Aurelian Zapciu, Romania — $10,000 for first place, Waste Pre-Processing Unit. Aurelian's method uses space-saving features, as well as camera-actuated ejectors to move trash through a system. Afterward, another mechanism brings the waste products into a reactor.
Derek McFall, United States — $2,500 for second place, Microgravity Waste Management System. Derek's method uses a hopper for solid waste, as well as guided air streams for gaseous and liquid waste.
Ayman Ragab Ahmed Hamdallah, Egypt — $2,500 for second place, Trash-Gun (T-Gun). Ayman's method uses air jets to compress trash before moving it through the system. It works as a better solution than using gravity.
One of the judges of this competition, Paul Hintze, said that "the challenge produced ideas that were innovative and that we had not yet considered". In addition, since space missions are getting farther and longer than ever, recycling space trash and transform it into useful products is a great accomplishment.
As Anne Meier said: "Recycling in space and repurposing all or as much of the mass that we launch up to space is key for sustainable long-duration space travel. Waste conversion and volume reduction will free up volume for more science, more exploration, and is the heart of closing the loop on human spaceflight, and logistics reduction and reutilization."
Anne also refers to Earth as our spaceship, with the same needs of recycling our waste, thus:
- "Space is also going to have these challenges, and it is important to include collaborative solutions from all corners of humanity."
Join the next NASA challenges
If you're interested in the upcoming challenges, visit NASA Solve! to know more about what is NASA looking for. You may also check NASA Tournament Lab to participate in open challenges.
Keywords: NASA, recycling, space, NineSigma, winners
Suggested Free Photo from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/astronaut-33684/