Late Thursday night, a Northrop Grumman rocket is ready to take off from the Virginia coast, carrying a sophisticated area bathroom for the astronauts on the Worldwide House Station. Touted as smaller and lighter than the present bathrooms on the ISS, the brand new commode can be speculated to be extra accommodating for ladies astronauts needing to make use of the area amenities.

Called the Universal Waste Management System, the bathroom is one in every of two upgraded bathrooms that NASA is making to the tune of $23 million. Whereas the one launching tonight is destined for the ISS, a second similar bathroom can even be added to NASA’s future deep-space crew capsule, known as Orion. NASA plans to ship astronauts to the Moon utilizing Orion within the coming years, and the Common Waste Administration System, or UWMS, shall be contained in the capsule for anybody needing a pitstop alongside the way in which.

Since this bathroom shall be touring into deep area, NASA wanted one thing compact however simply as environment friendly because the bathrooms of the previous. Heavier and bulkier objects are costlier and harder to launch. So NASA did its greatest to optimize the dimensions of the bathroom, making it 65 p.c smaller and 40 p.c lighter than present ISS bathrooms. The company additionally says engineers have made the bathroom extra power environment friendly. “You can imagine that optimizing those can help out in lots of ways because space and power are at a premium on a spacecraft,” Melissa McKinley, the challenge supervisor for the UWMS at NASA, mentioned throughout a press convention final week.

Regardless of these upgrades, the brand new UWMS bathroom roughly features the identical manner because the bathrooms already in area. All microgravity bathrooms depend on one essential factor: suction. Suction makes positive that the waste produced by the astronauts really will get pulled into the bathroom and doesn’t inadvertently float across the crew cabin. To pee within the present bathrooms on board the ISS, astronauts use a funnel hooked up to a hose, with a fan inside, which pulls the urine right into a tank. For quantity two, astronauts “sit” over a tank that makes use of the identical fan that pulls their enterprise right into a dishevelled.

The UWMS additionally depends on a fan system, in addition to a funnel hooked up to a hose. However NASA says it labored diligently with the ladies astronauts on the company to raised design each the form of the funnel and the bathroom “seat” to swimsuit them. “The funnel design was completely re-contoured to better accommodate the female anatomy,” McKinley mentioned. “And particularly this is a concern when the crew members are trying to do dual ops — when they’re doing both defecation and urination at the same time.” The ladies’s enter helped inform the funnel’s form, size, and place subsequent to the bathroom, in response to McKinley. The seat was additionally formed to make it simpler for the ladies astronauts to go quantity two whereas utilizing the hose.

One other main function of this bathroom is that NASA engineers used a particular 3D printing approach to make varied elements of the system out of unique metals like Inconel, Elgiloy, and titanium. These are sturdy metals, that are wanted in order that the bathroom can face up to a really acidic answer used contained in the system to deal with the urine. Urine can typically comprise stable deposits that get caught in the bathroom and construct up over time, so NASA pretreats the urine with an acidic answer to interrupt these deposits down earlier than it sends it to an on-board recycling system.

“The acid that we use as the pretreat is very strong,” Jim Fuller, the challenge supervisor for the UWMS at Collins Aerospace, which helped develop the bathroom, mentioned throughout the press convention. “It’s so strong that there’s only a handful of metals that NASA is aware of that can hold up to this pretreat over an extended period of time.” These metals are usually heavy, although, so NASA got here up with a particular 3D printing approach to create the elements it wanted, permitting them to be made extra light-weight than regular. Maybe the largest 3D-printed piece within the system is the bathroom’s titanium fan, which is answerable for pulling in all of the waste.

The Common Waste Administration System present process testing
Picture: NASA

One final huge improve on this method is that it’s all computerized. Proper now, astronauts must activate a change to make use of the opposite bathrooms on the ISS, however the UWMS fan mechanically comes on when astronauts both take away the funnel from its cradle or elevate the seat to the “commode.”

NASA has performed some testing with the bathroom on the bottom, orienting it in numerous positions to see how nicely the suction labored. Now, the bathroom is slated for takeoff at 9:38PM ET on Thursday, on prime of Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Driving inside Northrop’s Cygnus cargo capsule, the bathroom shall be retrieved by the astronauts as soon as the capsule is hooked up to the ISS. The astronauts will set up the UWMS subsequent to one of many present bathrooms already on board and take a look at it over the primary three months. Ultimately, the bathroom will simply develop into one other restroom choice for the astronauts on board the ISS.

Within the meantime, NASA has much more area bathrooms to design. In June, the area company began looking for designs for toilets that astronauts could use when working on the Moon. On the subject of all types of human spaceflight, the messy elements of sending individuals to area must be thought-about so as to obtain a clean mission. “When the astronauts have to go, we want to allow them to boldly go,” Fuller mentioned.

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