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Contest Number:
IC_2018_0162

About the Challenge

On Earth, recycling technologies can utilize gravity to move waste when converting it to new materials or constituent molecules. In a microgravity environment, however, technology is the only way to transfer the waste for processing. The aim of this Challenge is to identify receptacle and feeder mechanisms suitable for a microgravity environment that can deliver mission waste for decomposition.

NASA has developed a high temperature reactor that can recycle astronaut waste into valuable substances (water, gases & solids). During housekeeping duties, the astronaut will place mission waste into the receptacle in preparation for recycling. The feeder mechanism will take the waste from the receptacle and deliver it to the hot reactor for decomposition.

For a mission lasting one year, a team of four astronauts would generate approximately 2,500 kilograms of waste. Astronaut logistical waste can contain a variety of products, including:

  • Fabrics (from discarded clothing)
  • Foam
  • Food packaging
  • Human waste
  • Hygienic wipes
  • Low- & High-density plastics
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Paper

Given the volume and variety of waste products, it is crucial that NASA identify mechanisms to facilitate mission recycling.

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For full contest details, please open the Challenge Statement >>.

Award

  • Total prize pool of US$15,000 available in the form of one US$10,000 first prize and two US$2,500 second prizes.
  • NASA will recognize prize winners through published announcements and individual profile stories.
  • Acceptance of a prize grants NASA with an unlimited license to use winning methodologies.
  • Successful entrants may also have the opportunity for future collaboration with NASA.

Timeline

Success Criteria

While NASA is primarily interested in comprehensive systems that can jointly address the need for a receptacle and transfer mechanism, they are also interested in approaches that can sufficiently solve only one component.

Proposed technologies will be evaluated against the following criteria:

The trash receptacle must:

  • Accept logistical mission waste from the habitable volume of the ISS (or other off-world habitation) without dependence on gravity
  • Accept a minimum of 5kg of 100kg/m³ bagged waste
  • Prevent escape of waste gases into the habitation
  • Avoid the use of consumables whenever possible
  • Ideally, fit within the confines of a middeck locker space:
    • 18” wide x 21” deep x 21” long
    • Technologies that cannot currently meet this size specification are still of interest if a viable pathway to size reduction exists
  • Consume no more than 500W at peak power
    • Energy efficient operation is vital
  • Provide adequate insulation to allow all user surfaces to remain cool to the touch
  • Avoid generation of sounds above 80 decibels
  • Must be operational within 2-3 years

The feeder mechanism must:

  • Transfer logistical mission waste from the habitable volume of the ISS (or other off-world habitation) to the waste reactor without dependence on gravity
  • Consume no more than 500W at peak power
    • Energy efficient operation is vital
  • Prevent the escape of waste gases into the habitation
  • Provide adequate insulation to allow all user surfaces to remain cool to the touch
  • Connect to 300°C reactor via a 2” diameter opening
  • Avoid use of consumables whenever possible
  • Ideally, fit within the confines of a middeck locker space:
    • 18” wide x 21” deep x 21” long
    • Technologies that cannot currently meet this size specification are still of interest if a viable pathway to size reduction exists
  • Avoid generation of sounds above 80 decibels
  • Must be operational within 2-3 years

Additionally, it is highly desirable that:

  • Waste is pre-processed prior to encountering reactor, for example:
    • Cut into small (approx. 1 inch) squares
    • Mashed and extruded into thin tubes
    • Other pre-processing to increase surface area
  • Wet and dry waste can be processed simultaneously
  • Sensors to identify waste are included in proposed technologies
Challenge Moderator
  • Program Manager

Thank you for your interest in this exciting new NASA Challenge! On behalf of NASA and NineSigma, we welcome your questions and look forward to your participation.

Meet the NASA Sponsors
  • Life Support and Thermal Systems Analyst (JSC)
  • NASA
  • Chemist (KSC)
  • NASA
  • Chemical Engineer (KSC)
  • NASA
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NASA Recycling in Space Challenge: Official Rules

NASA Recycling in Space - Challenge Statement

NASA Recycling in Space - Webinar Transcript