Image Credit: Collins Aerospace

For decades, the approach to managing astronaut trash has involved temporarily storing and ultimately disposing of the trash either by return to Earth or incineration during reentry in a disposable supply vehicle. As NASA pushes the boundaries of human space exploration through longer missions to the Moon and Mars, these proven approaches will no longer be feasible for several reasons. Returning trash to Earth will be impractical, jettisoning it during the mission may result in the loss of valuable recoverable resources and disposing of it locally may pose a planetary protection risk. To solve these challenges, Collins Aerospace, a unit of United Technologies Corp., has proposed an integrated Trash Compaction and Processing System designed to handle astronaut trash in situ.

The highly integrated technical baseline leverages decades of Collins’ Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) experience to perform safe recovery and processing of the valuable resources from the trash compaction system, minimizing the loss of cabin air while maximizing the amount of water recovered. Through the compaction process, the system would reduce trash volume by 93 percent, turning two cubic feet of trash into a 9”x9”x1.75” disc – essentially reducing something roughly the size of a beer keg to a small pizza.

NASA selected Collins to develop the concept through the agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) solicitation for trash compaction and processing systems. Under NextSTEP-2, Collins will have 18 months to develop and test its design, before NASA conducts a preliminary design review (PDR). A second phase focused on procurement will follow.

“Astronaut trash poses a significant challenge for future missions to the Moon and Mars,” said Shawn Macleod, senior business manager for Space Systems at Collins Aerospace. “Right now, the crew on the International Space Station generates roughly two cubic feet of trash per day, and a resupply vehicle comes and hauls it away about every four months. On the 18-month journey to Mars, that will not be an option. To facilitate longer missions, we need a new way to handle trash in situ, and our system offers the solution.”

Enabling human space exploration has been a core focus of Collins Aerospace since the Apollo era of the 1960s. The company has developed and manufactured several key life support system technologies for NASA, including the water recovery system currently in use on the International Space Station. In addition to the trash system, Collins is also under contract with NASA to develop the Universal Waste Management System, which will be the waste management and collection system astronauts use in deep space.

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