NASA astronauts show a new way to take out space junk

Four astronauts on the International Space Station can create more than 2.5 tons of trash a year, but getting rid of that trash has been an ongoing struggle.

At the lab in low Earth orbit, astronauts tested a new technology last week that could become a go-to solution for space waste disposal in the future. For the first time, the seven-member crew successfully used a Nanoracks Bishop airlock system to empty approximately 172 pounds of trash out of the station.

The technology operates a specially designed container and disposes of waste in a bag by sending it to burn in the earth’s atmosphere. The method does not contribute to the growing space debris problem, NASA officials said.


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The status quo for astronaut waste collection currently involves storing waste for months on board until a commercial spacecraft can transport it. Astronauts fill a designated cargo spacecraft with waste. Then that entire spacecraft either lands on Earth or burns up upon re-entry, according to NASA.

The demo shows the new system is “a good way to clean our house in low Earth orbit,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, said in a recent tweet.

The ISS crew could, in theory, fill the Nanoracks container with up to 600 pounds of trash, according to the company. Once the garbage bag is released, the airlock goes up empty.

Waste takes up valuable space in tight spaces and presents safety issues for astronauts. After all, some of this waste is biological.

The U.S. space agency has been researching alternative solutions for managing the waste, particularly because the spacecraft disposal method won’t be an option for long, distant missions to the moon and, eventually, Mars.

“Collecting trash in space is a long-standing, but not as publicly discussed, challenge aboard the ISS,” Cooper Read, Bishop Airlock program manager at Nanoracks, said in a press release. society. “As we enter an era where more and more people live and work in space, this is an essential function, just like for everyone at home.”

The load dumped during the demonstration included foam, packaging materials, cargo transfer bags, dirty astronaut clothes, hygiene products and waste office supplies, according to Nanoracks.

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