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Now, a dryer to deal with space trash!


Associate professor Jean Hunter (left) and PhD student Apollo Arquiza add waste to a machine that recovers water from space cabin trash. Credit: Jason Koski/University Photography.

WASHINTON (BNS): For most of space's unknown challenges, mankind has answers, but not for the trash the manned missions produce.

The problem of trash has been a huge challenge for space missions. Americans or Russians, they all bring it back home. In case of MIR space station, trash lie around in the hallway for months before being sent for burning in Earth's atmosphere.

As scientists look forward to manned deep space exploration and voyages to Mars, the need to disperse trash without much delay and with efficiency is increasingly being felt in the aerospace community.

Now, according to reports, a solution is in the offing to the problem of stinking garbage which astronauts can't just throw out of the window -- it will either orbit with them or contaminate another planet.

A Madison-based firm, Orbital Technologies Corp, has partnered with Jean Hunter, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, to develop a trash dryer for NASA, which has been looking for one as it plans to take astronauts beyond Moon and International Space Station.

According to reports, a prototype of the heat-pump dryer for wastage disposal developed by the team is now being tested at the NASA Ames Research Centre. If the model is selected, then the group will develop a prototype that can perform under zero gravity and is not heavy for any spacecraft.

The system blows hot and dry air through the wet trash. And at the other end, it collects the water that emerges from the warm and moist air coming out. The water thus collected can be purified for drinking, while the remaining trash would be dry, inert and odourless. The air and heat are both recycled to contain odours and save energy.

Hunter's team includes graduate student Apollo Arquiza, Jasmin Sahbaz '10, Carissa Jones '09 and high school student Trudy Chu. They have been testing the dryer with “fake” space trash -- a mix of paper towels, duct tape, baby wipes and dog food (to simulate the astronauts' food scraps).

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