A Northrop Grumman rocket will lift off from the Virginia coast Thursday night, sending an advanced space toilet for astronauts aboard the International Space Station into space,media reported. The new toilet is said to be smaller and lighter than the existing one on the ISS and more suitable for female astronauts who need to use space facilities.
The toilet, known as UWMS, is one of two upgraded toilets NASA has built at a cost of $23 million. The toilet that will be launched tonight will be ISS, and the second same toilet will be deployed to NASA’s future deep space astronaut capsule, Orion. NASA plans to send astronauts to the moon in the next few years using the Orion spacecraft, while UWMS will be installed in the capsule.
Because the toilet is sent to outer space, NASA needs a toilet that is compact but as efficient as it used to be. Heavier, more bulky objects are more expensive and difficult to launch, so NASA needs to do everything it can to optimize the size of the toilet to be 65 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than the current space station’s toilet. The agency also says engineers have made toilets more energy efficient.
Despite these upgrades, the new UWMS toilet functions more or less like the one already in space. All microgravity toilets rely on one important thing: suction. The suction force ensures that the excreta produced by the astronauts is pumped into the toilet without accidentally floating around the cabin.
One of the main features of the new toilet is that NASA engineers use a special 3D printing technique to make parts of the system using rare metals such as chromium-nickel ferroalloys, nickel-based Roy alloys and titanium. These are strong metals, so the toilet can withstand acidic solutions in the system that process urine. Urine sometimes contains solid sediments that get stuck in the toilet and accumulate over time, so NASA pre-treats the urine with an acidic solution to break it down before sending it into the spacecraft’s recovery system.
Another big upgrade to this system is that it’s fully automated. Astronauts now need to turn on the switch to use the toilet on NASA, but the UWMS fan starts automatically when the astronaut removes the funnel from the stand or lifts the seat to the urinal.
NASA has already tested toilets on the ground, and they’ve fixed them in different locations to see how suction works. The toilet will now be launched Thursday at 9:38 p.m. EST aboard an Antares rocket from Northrop Grumman. It is reported that the astronauts will install the UWMS next to an existing toilet on the spacecraft and test it within the first three months. Eventually, the toilet will be another toilet option for ISS astronauts.
At the same time, NASA actually needs to design more space toilets. In June, NASA began looking for toilet designs that astronauts could use to work on the moon.