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How do astronauts get their water?

Water tanks in space: How do astronauts store their water?

We’re all familiar with how water tanks work down here on Earth: rains fall, tanks fill up, and then we use the water for our gardens and homes. Simple.

But humans don’t just live on Earth anymore. The International Space Station orbits the planet every 92 minutes, and requires an appropriate water supply to keep the astronauts alive. Let’s take a look at a very different kind of water tank; one designed to withstand the harsh, cold realities of outer space.

Recycling is a crucial part of water management on the space station.

Water in space: What you need to know

Surprisingly, there’s no shortage of water in space. In fact, scientists discovered a cloud of water vapour around a black hole, with enough water to supply every person on Earth with a planet’s worth of water 20,000 times over.

But, this black hole is 12 billion light years away – certainly out of our reach! So how do our astronauts get their water?

The most expensive water deliveries ever made

Recycling is a crucial part of water management on the space station, but the initial source of water had to come from somewhere. During the construction of the space station, the Space Shuttles brought up filled water containers and left them in the modules of the station – the initial source of water.

Given that the cost of transport via the Space Shuttle averaged around US$10,400 per litre launched into space, this water was expensive!

Reusing every drop

Running a hose and letting the water drain away would likely horrify astronauts, as every drop of water is precious up in the International Space Station. Water recycling systems extract humidity from the air, condensing it down so it can be used for sponge baths and drinking. This means that the air astronauts breathe out will eventually make its way into their water bottles.

However, this is clean water. The systems that extract this H20 from the air are designed to ensure no contaminants or waste products enter back into the water supply.

“The water that we generate is much cleaner than anything you’ll ever get out of any tap in the United States,” said Marshall Space Flight Center water-processing specialist Layne Carter.

“We certainly do a much more aggressive treatment process (than municipal waste water treatment plants). We have practically ultra-pure water by the time our water’s finished.”

Getting water into space is expensive.Getting water into space is expensive.

Water is never stored in large quantities on the ISS – it’s always needed throughout the day to keep the station running. What’s more, large tanks would just add further weight, which would in turn add to the operational costs of the station.

So, water on the ISS is certainly managed differently, in that astronauts need to really maximise the water in their environment. If you’re looking to create a secure and safe water supply that takes advantage of rainfall here on Earth, get in touch with us today.


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