Sources of Water in Space: Complete Overview

Ever wondered how astronauts survive in space with the limited supply of water that is transported within contingency water containers on a spacecraft to the International space station or space? On Earth, we have different sources of water. On average, a person uses, or you can say, wastes, around 80 gallons of water daily. Do you know that astronauts are allowed to use only 11 gallons of water a day? That is only 176 cups of water a day that you waste while brushing your teeth or showering. This forces us to consider how astronauts survive with a limited supply of water during their six or nine-month stay on the International Space Station.

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Transporting gallons of water into space is a complex task, and water storage is yet another complicated task in itself. Even if somehow, scientists were able to transport millions of gallons of water in a rocket, they wouldn’t be able to stash or store those water containers safely in space or the International Space Station. So scientists, engineers, and researchers have come up with the innovative idea of establishing high-tech water reservoirs on the International Space Station that will eventually squeeze every single drop of water from the astronaut’s sweat, urine, and breath.

Yes, it sounds hacky! You must not wonder where your next bottle or glass of water is coming from until it’s purified and safe to drink. Astronauts eventually drink and use water that is purified in the reservoirs. These reservoirs purify and filter astronauts’ pee, sweat, and breath vapor, which is condensed to provide clean and safe water to the astronauts. As of today, the ISS (International Space Station) recycles nearly 90 percent of the water supplied or stacked for astronaut use. The ISS recycles over 1,000 gallons of water per year, as well as 40 percent of the oxygen that astronauts breathe. Resupply missions are also carried out to provide essentials like water, food, oxygen, and other things along with the resupply rations. Tech machines, filters, and water reservoirs are embedded inside the rockets and on the International Space Station to convert the rockets and spaceships into self-sustaining environments, or space homes, just like planet Earth. In orbit, where there is no life-supporting environment or a system like Earth that will provide natural sources of water, power, breathable air (i.e., oxygen), food, gravity, and optimum atmospheric pressure, the International Space Station has to provide the necessities required to survive in space, and the space station does not have an infinite supply of such things. The station has limited rations, water, oxygen, etc., in that case, nothing can go to waste, not even a single drop of water. The astronauts living high in the sky depend upon limited rationing and recycling to survive.

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Plenty of water is transported to the space station along with the rations and necessary supplies needed by astronauts. And to recycle water, there has to be some water present on the space station. Before diving into different sources of water in space that help astronauts survive their six-month period in space, let’s splash some water for God’s sake.

Russian-built water processor – There is an innovative water processor present in orbit built by the Russians that collects water from the humid air or the humidity present in the atmosphere. ECLSS – the Environmental Control and Life Support System, is the regenerative process system that purifies the air for astronauts so that they can breathe air that is free from toxic gasses and carbon dioxide. The system also stores astronauts’ urine, sweat, condensed humid air, the space shuttle’s fuel cells, and handwashing and purifying the used water, turning it into its original pure-liquid state. The ECLSS system was developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MFSC).

The major sources of water on the ISS are the astronauts – their sweat droplets and carbon dioxide are both evaporated or sucked into the walls or vents for recycling purposes. The urinary recovery system is another source. Astronauts pee into a tube vacuum that ultimately collects the urine and purifies it by evaporating it, turning it into a salty brine, and then heating or burning it up to remove contamination and toxins. The oxygen generating system, electrified membrane system breaks or splits the connected molecules. The oxygen or o-2 molecules are sent to the station’s cabinet while the constituent hydrogen molecules are sent to the specialized reactor. In the specialized reactor, carbon dioxide molecules break inside the reactor chamber, and then the carbon and oxygen react with each other or combine to form pure water. Water dispensers and water recovery systems are yet other major sources of water on the ISS station.

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The advanced technology – water purification system at ISS cleans and purifies used water using a three-step process method similar to microbes, plants, and bio-organisms, and the natural system of Earth purifies the used water. The major first step of the ISS water purification system is to remove toxic or waste particles and debris. Then, in the next step, water is treated with several substances in “multi-filtration beds” which ultimately removes all the organic and non-organic particles, or impurities. And in the final step, the water is passed through the “catalytic oxidation reactor”, which happens to remove volatile compounds, bacteria, and viruses from the water. Scientists and engineers say that water purified in space on the ISS station is much purer and cleaner than most people drink on planet Earth.

Apart from ISS station sources, the researchers have suspected that there is plenty of water present on the planets: Jupiter’s largest sets of moons, Mars (below the planet’s surface), Saturn’s rings, and large sets of moons, all in the icy form. Scientists also claim that there might be enough water on the surface of exoplanet Trappist-1e, a planet in the Trappist system, which is almost 39.46 light-years away, and exoplanet Kepler-452b, which is almost 1,402 light-years away from our solar system.

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