Purified urine a source of drinking water for astronauts


BEIJING: Researchers and engineers at the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, a major defence contractor, have several sets of its instruments inside the core capsule of the country’s space station that has been launched.

Rather than lethal weapons, those instruments will serve astronauts who live and work inside the station. One is especially indispensable – the urine treatment and water recovery apparatus.

Developed and built by engineers at the CASIC Second Academy’s 206th Institute, the apparatus was activated for in-orbit testing shortly after the capsule entered orbit, and the results showed it functions well.

“We sent signals from ground control to start the machine for a certain period of time to check whether it can dispose of simulated urine as we had designed. The readings were normal, which means our design works, ” said Cui Guangzhi, chief designer of the apparatus at the institute.

“Urine treatment and water recovery are among the most important parts in a space station’s environmental control and life support system, being vital to astronauts.

“Long-term manned space missions rely heavily on regenerative life support systems, and resupplying water, oxygen and food poses challenges.

“A reliable urine treatment and water recovery apparatus will help extensively reduce resupply costs and allow for longer-term missions.”

“Once astronauts of the Shenzhou XII mission enter the core capsule in the near future, the apparatus will formally begin operation, ” Cui said.

The machine’s processing method sounds simple – urine will be mixed with chemical agents for initial disposal and then pumped into a vacuum container, where it will be boiled for evaporation. Then, water molecules will be collected from the steam and be further purified.

However, engineers had to overcome a number of technical difficulties to make sure the process can occur smoothly in the space station’s unique environment, which differs from Earth’s in various ways, according to Wang Tianbao, a member of Cui’s team. — China Daily/ANN

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