Astronauts Have a New Way to Clean-Up the ISS

Life on the space station just got easier.

Aug 9, 2022
Astronauts Have a New Way to Clean-Up the ISS | Life on the space station just got easier.

Life on the International Space Station (ISS) mimics the same routines as on Earth. The astronauts eat, sleep, work, and they have chores to do, like taking out the trash. But how do you actually remove garbage when you are in space?

“Waste collection in space has been a long standing, yet not as publicly discussed, challenge aboard the ISS,” said Cooper Read, Nanoracks’ Bishop Airlock program manager, in a company press release.  But due to a successful test in July, 2022, the process just got a lot easier.

Operation Take Out The Trash
The process has been fairy complicated. The astronauts store their trash in large bags on the ISS until the Cygnus cargo vehicle arrives and the trash gets loaded on it to be removed from the space station. The entire spacecraft burns when it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s a really expensive way to incinerate garbage.

Especially since so much is produced. “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,” Read said.

But now, new technology from the Houston, Texas company Nanoracks was designed to streamline the operation, according to Gizmodo. The new system consists of a container mounted in the ISS’s Bishop Airlock where the astronauts can fill a huge bag with up to 272 kg of waste.

The Bishop Airlock is the first commercially produced airlock that was used on the ISS. It was attached to the space station on December 23, 2020 and first used in February, 2021.

The bag in the airlock is later jettisoned in the direction of Earth where it will burn up in the atmosphere. This method, according to the company,  will not  leave any space debris behind. The operation was aptly named Take Out the Trash.

Trash Test
The new system was successfully tested on July, 2, 2022, reported Space, when the first garbage bag (weighing around 78 kg) was ejected from the Bishop Airlock. The trash contained the usual space waste like packing materials, office supplies, used crew hygiene products, and clothing.

While this is new to the ISS, it is actually a fancied-up method for just jettisoning the bags into space the way they were from the Soviet space stations in the 1970s and 1980s, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics tweeted.

While trash disposal may seem like a very insignificant part of life on the space station, streamlining the process could be a crucial part of long-term manned space missions in the solar system and beyond in the quest to go where no man has gone before.

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Bonnie has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.