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NASA Has A Space Trash Problem To Solve

Jul 13, 2018 09:22 PM EDT
NASA is looking for creative ways to deal with the trash accummulated in space. As humanity travels further into the cosmos, the prospect of garbage management becomes trickier and much more important.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Where people go, trash follows. As humankind ventures further and further away into the cosmos, NASA grapples with the problem of garbage in deep space.

Space Trash Challenges

The room in the International Space Station is extremely limited, and the astronauts' living conditions are always careful and meticulously measured.

However, waste is ultimately unavoidable. The crew do their best to minimize the trash that they produce, but there's no way to eliminate them entirely. Garbage can't be kept on board for very long, since it not only takes up precious space and weight, but it also presents potential hazards to the people who are inside.

NASA reports that the ISS crew members currently store up to 2 metric tons of trash in the station temporarily. Then, these are placed in commercial supply vehicles to get sent back to Earth or to burn in the atmosphere upon reentry.

When the missions get farther away in the solar system — or even outside, in the distant future — this method will no longer be possible. More complicated and creative ways to dispose of astronaut waste will be necessary, which is why NASA is making it a priority to explore new solutions to the space trash dilemma.

Getting Creative With Space Garbage

Specifically, NASA is currently spearheading the development of technological solutions such as the Heat Melt Compactor, which uses heat to shrink the trash down to a fraction of its original size. Another is the "trash to gas" technology that repurposes the waste into usable rocket propellant.

However, the agency is also reaching out to the general public. As part of the project, NASA has sent out a call to private companies and agencies, seeking out Trash Compaction and Processing System designs that would work in deep space missions and could also remove hazardous parts.

The four-part objectives of the TCPS are trash compaction into a suitable form for efficient long-endurance storage, safe processing to eliminate or reduce biological risks, stabilization of the trash, and management of the gaseous, aqueous, and particulate effluents.

The deadline of proposals are on Aug. 22.

"Operations aboard the Gateway in lunar orbit, as well as on the surface of the Moon, will require innovative approaches to live and work more independently from Earth," NASA explains in the statement. "Logistical efficiencies afforded by new innovations like trash compaction and processing systems will make human exploration safer and more sustainable."

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