News from the septic tank appears to be all the rage as of late, and it seems as though NASA is also on board. Their innovative design recycles human urine into a “sugary drink“, which accompanied astronauts of the Atlantis space crew in 2011. Their “forward osmosis” technology has the potential to save NASA a ton of money and fuel because of the system’s lightweight design, but we think their invention could serve a multiplicity of uses well beyond the rocket ship.
The main problem with current urine filtering technology is that it uses machinery that requires a lot of electricity from the ship’s limited supply. This “water-conversion kit” makes use of a process called forward osmosis that pulls the urine through a semi-permeable membrane, and fully filters a full bag in just a couple of hours. Recycling urine in this way has a significant effect on a ship’s payload, and considering that a single pound adds $10,000 of cost, that slight weight difference can translate to serious savings.
The actual conversion process is fairly simple. To avoid the messiness of zero-gravity fluid transfers, waste liquid is drawn by syringe through a T-shaped valve. On the other end of the valve is the receptacle bag, and a switch is flipped to seamlessly transfer the waste liquid with the filled syringe. The final step is to let the bag do its magic, and 4-6 hours later, you have yourself a drink that (according to a daring Japanese cameraman) resembles Capri Sun.
The Atlantis crew has yet to test the system themselves, and they will only be testing it with a non-urine fluid to observe any potential problems with the new technology. While the creators are concerned about a potential build up of urea (a compound found in human urine), they expect to implement the system for its intended purposes after the findings of this next space voyage. Because NASA’s technology is usually adapted to uses that extend beyond the realms of space travel, we look forward to its potential applications in areas of the world where water is scarce.