When you gotta go in space, it’s a little different than back on Earth. Not only is the process ‘involved’ but what’s waste to your body is a valuable commodity. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station this week tested a new filter which provides them with a more efficient way to drink the water from their urine.
While it may seem unpalatable it's actually a vital piece in the puzzle of getting astronauts to and from Mars.
The new distillation method, which was developed by Danish biotech company Aquaporin A/S, utilizes proteins to pull clean water from urine, swear, wastewater, condensation, and other precious liquids that are accessible in space.
The filter works the same way you kidneys do.
The new system consists of two tubes connected to a source of energy. A half gallon of pee is transferred from one container through the filter and into the other container in less than one minute. Astronauts are praising the device for being small, lightweight, and unlikely to become clogged.
Drinking distilled urine is nothing new as Astronauts have been reliant on the practice since 2009.
Existing methods are already extremely efficient and able to recapture 93% of their wastewater.
However the current system is slow, heavy, and prone to breakdowns. The current system spins urine at high speeds to separate the water vapor, which is then treated chemically. Using this method, astronauts have been able to recycle an astonishing 6,000 liters of water per year.
Impressive as that may be it is still not enough water to sustain a crew of multiple astronauts over a long period of time. Astronauts are hopeful that the new system will function in a more efficient manner.
Ensuring that astronauts have enough water to drink is extremely challenging.
Water is weighty, used up rapidly, and costly to bring into space. Currently, it costs $10,000 per pound in order to put a spaceship into orbit. A gallon of water weighs eight and one-third pounds.
That’s more than $83,000 for one gallon of water!
Even by limiting astronauts to three gallons per day, NASA still spends nearly $250,000 per day per astronaut on water alone. With NASA looking to travel to Mars, recycling water has become a huge concern.
NASA has been teaming up with Aquaporin A/S since 2011. The two groups have been testing prototypes in laboratories. They have been seeking a protein membrane that is simple, lightweight, and reliable for usage in their filtration systems.
European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen is currently at the International Space Station testing out the new filters. Mogensen plans to filter three different urine samples while he is at the space station. There are also plans to bring the water back to Earth in order to have it properly analyzed. If everything checks out, astronauts can expect that the new system will be put to use very quickly.
Aquaporin also hopes to use the device in places where clean water is scarce, such as developing countries and areas experiencing heavy drought.