International Space Station gets new waste disposal technology

NASA has successfully tested a new waste disposal technology aboard the International Space Station (ISS) developed by Texas-based waste disposal company Nanoracks. The test demonstrated a more efficient and sustainable model of removing waste from the ISS and could turn out to be a critical new utility function for all future space stations.

Usually, ISS astronauts collect trash and store it on the space station for months waiting for the Cygnus cargo vehicle to arrive at the station. Cygnus is a ‘disposable’ spacecraft designed to transport supplies to the space station. After it completes its primary mission, astronauts fill it will bags of trash and releases the spacecraft. After this, it de-orbits and is completely burned up during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The new concept developed by Nanopracks uses a specially designed waste container contained which is mounted in the Bishop Airlock. Crew members can fill it up with around 270 kilograms of waste. After this, the container is released, and just like the Cygnus method, it completely burns up during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The idea is that this method is more efficient and sustainable since astronauts do not have to wait for the cargo spacecraft to arrive in order to dispose of waste.

During the successful first test, the container contained around 78 kilograms of trash including foam, packing materials, cargo transfer bags, dirty crew clothing, hygiene products and used office supplies.

“This successful test not only demonstrates the future of waste removal for space stations, but also highlights our ability to leverage the ISS as a commercial technology testbed, which provides critical insights into how we can prepare for the next phases of commercial LEO destinations. Thank you to NASA and the ISS Program for their continued support, and we look forward to continuing this collaboration,” said Nanoracks CEO Amela Wilson, in a company press statement.

“Waste collection in space has been a long-standing, yet not as publicly discussed, challenge aboard the ISS. Four astronauts can generate up to 2,500 kg of trash per year, or about two trash cans per week. As we move into a time with more people living and working in space, this is a critical function just like it is for everyone at home,” added Cooper Read, Bishop Airlock program manager at Nanoracks, in the press statement.