Astronauts on the International Space Station will test a new $23 million toilet to see if it smells and how well it works – ahead of its use on future Moon and Mars trips.
The loo was supposed to be heading to the station 253 miles above the Earth this morning, but the Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship launch was scrubbed.
The Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) zero-gravity toilet has been designed to better accommodate the female anatomy than current space loos.
It features a funnel system for urine and small ridges on the seat to help astronauts better position themselves while floating around inside the space station.
While the toilet is fitted with biofilters and its designers predict it will ‘smell sweet’ even after a number two, ISS astronauts will perform the first real use ‘sniff test’.
Assuming it all works well and astronauts are happy with the way the toilet performs – and smells – a version could be installed in the Orion spaceship that will take the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon in 2024.
As well as the loo, the aborted Cygnus supply mission also included crew possessions, clothing, science experiments and even cosmetics by Estee Lauder.
NASA revealed images of the new design, with a seat better suited for women and a more female-friendly urinal suction system
The UWMS, pictured here as a design prototype, could be used on short- and long-duration NASA missions
NASA and Northrop Grumman called off the launch – on top of an Antares rocket – just minutes before it was due to liftoff from the launch pad at the NASA-owned Wallops Island facility in Virginia.
No details have been given for the delay, but Northrop Grumman tweeted that it was scrubbed ‘after receiving off-nominal data from ground support equipment.’
The company has yet to announce a new launch date, but it is thought any potential glitch in the equipment would need to be fixed before they can get a new slot.
When it is launched the Cygnus freight ship will pursue the ISS for two and a half days with 8,000 pounds of cargo, provisions and experiments before connecting.
Astronauts will then work to install the new zero gravity toilet and any other experiments being sent to the station.
The toilet has a lower mass and volume than previous systems, is simpler to use, provides increased crew comfort and performance, and treats urine so that it can be safety processed by the spacecraft recycling systems.
CURRENT ISS TOILET HAS ‘SEVERAL ATTACHMENTS’
On board the ISS there is a toilet which has several attachments.
As there is no gravity in space, liquids do not flow but accumulate in floating globes.
To counter this problem, there are hoses which are used and provide pressure to suck the fluid from the body.
Each astronaut has their own personal attachment.
When a toilet is not available or the astronaut is on a space-walk, the astronauts use MAGs (maximum absorbency garments) which are diapers that soak up all the waste.
They are effective for short missions but have been known to leak occasionally.
The team developing the new loo for NASA took part in a Reddit AMA and said it will be tested on the ISS before being more widely used in the Orion spacecraft to the Moon.
In terms of smell the team said the toilet ‘collects and filters the odors with an odor bacteria filter. The air coming from previous toilets has been said to be the sweetest smelling air. We hope this toilet is even better.’
It hasn’t been specifically designed for the ISS – the goal is that it will be used in future crewed deep space missions.
This will include the Artemis missions to the Moon – and eventually Mars in the under development Orion spaceship.
Lead for the Orion cockpit team, Jason Hutt, says toilets in spaceships can develop a nasty problem over time.
‘If you want to recreate that used spacecraft smell, take a couple dirty diapers, some microwave food wrappers, a used airsickness bag, & a few sweaty towels, put them in an old school metal trash can and let it bake in the summer sun for 10 days. Then open the kid & breathe deep,’ he tweeted.
‘Our toilet and trash bags are designed with odor control features but breakthrough will occur after some amount of time,’ he added.
Odour controls feature heavily in the new toilet design, say the team behind the technology – adding nobody will actually ‘sniff it’ until the astronauts use it.
‘We basically took historical data and developed a list of the worst components that make feces stink and can be detected by smell,’ they explained in a Reddit AMA.
‘The odor bacteria filters were then ‘challenged’ with this mixture of components to see how long the filter would continue to neutralize the smells.
‘We didn’t use a nose to do detection, since everyone’s noses are different. We used a gas analyzer to asses parts per million of odor breakthrough.’
The team added that ‘the testing on board [the ISS] will help us understand the capacity of the odor bacteria filter and better prepare for future flights so we will know how many to take.’
The development of waste collections systems for spacecraft presents some significant challenges due to the lack of gravity in space.
The current ISS toilet system. Space toilets have been designed predominantly with men in mind and can cause problems for female astronauts
Urine is processed and treated to often be reused as drinking water, while faeces is collected in individual bags and stored in containers.
Successful capture and ease of use for ‘simultaneous urination and defecation for mixed gender crews’ have been limitations of the ISS’s system, however, due to differences in the positions of male and female anatomy.
To enable female astronauts to do number ones and number twos simultaneously, the seat in the new design has been moved forward from its central location.
This allows the funnel to be ‘moved closer’ to the female crew member’s body, and to be ‘positioned a more favourable upright angle’.
Another key feature of the UWMS is a urine pre-treatment dose pump, which enables water recovery from urine.
The toilet will be tested on the ISS (pictured) and could be used for long-term missions to the Moon and Mars
Air will pull urine away from the seat to an filter, which will capture odour-causing molecules and bacteria.
NASA claims the UWMS will provide increased crew comfort and performance and the ‘hygienic collection of urine and faeces’.
Once the loo has been tested by ISS astronauts and any changes have been made, it could be used by the first woman and next man to walk on the Moon.
NASA plans to return humans to the surface of our only natural satellite in 2024 and they will get there in an Orion spaceship – likely equipped with the UWMS.
EXPLAINED: THE $100 BILLION INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH
The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.
Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.
ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.
The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.
Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.