Drinking water is one of the most basic elements we need for survival. When planning a trip at sea or in space planners must take fresh water into consideration. Physical space on voyages always comes at a premium, space in space really comes at a premium. So how does the International Space Station and it;s resupply vehicles handle water considerations.
The solution presently at work in the ISS is the Sabatier System that helps minimize the size and weight of life support system. The process by which it works was originally designed by a Nobel prize winning chemist, Paul Sabatier, in the early 1900’s. A catalyst is used that reacts with carbon dioxide and hydrogen- both by products of current life support systems on board the space station – to produce water and methane. This interaction closes the loop in the oxygen and water regeneration cycle. For us simple folks it means the space station can produce it’s own water without having to transport it from Earth.
The base technology for the Sabatier system has been in development for the past twenty years, the overall hardware production was actually done in the last two years. The system contains a furnace , a compressor, and a condenser/ phase separation system. The real bonus is that the feeds into the system were already on board, all that was required was something to plug into the system….but located in outer space.
The Chief Technologist Jason Crusan states that” Being able to demonstrate innovative new methods to acquire technical capabilities is one of the corner stones the space station can serve for future missions and approaches to those missions.’ Using developing technologies and productive systems enables the station to squeeze every drop from the resources they have, improving their resupply capabilities and frees up storage space.
Currently in operation on the station, Sabatier is the final piece of the regenerative environmental control and life support system. Prior to the system the Oxygen Generation System vented excess carbon dioxide and hydrogen overboard. These valuable chemicals are no longer wasted , but used to generate additional water for the space station, while saving space that was once required for water storage that is now used for more science facilities and engineering equipment.