On Earth, people have access to municipal services that take care of garbage. But in orbit, the accumulation of debris creates problems. Therefore, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) need another way to remove accumulated waste during a long stay in orbit at an altitude of 400 km above the Earth.
The current ISS resident Samantha Cristoforetti, who arrived at the orbital outpost in April 2022 as part of the Crew-4 mission, published a short video showing how the crew gets rid of garbage in a new way. This process looks almost like throwing garbage out of the window. But in order not to open the porthole with the risk of creating decompression, a special Bishop Airlock device is installed on the ISS, which in its principle of operation resembles a shot from a cannon.
It is enough for the crew to load a special container filled with waste into Bishop Airlock and press the button – the shot sends the clogged container back to Earth. Don’t worry, the package with the cosmic “surprise” won’t fall on anyone’s head, it will just burn up in the upper atmosphere at high speed.
Back in July we tested a new capability for the @Space_Station. Filled with dry trash & foam, this big trash bag was jettisoned from a depressurised airlock on the station & it burned up harmlessly in the Earth’s atmosphere. #MissionMinerva @esa @esaspaceflight pic.twitter.com/o83AH5nKvh
— Samantha Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) September 13, 2022
“In July, we conducted a successful test. Now we used the dumpster for its intended purpose and filled it with waste, which was thrown out through a garbage cannon, which is a special gateway called Bishop. During decompression, the pressure pushes out the container, and then it burns harmlessly in the Earth’s atmosphere,” the astronaut explained.
Inconvenient truth about garbage
Previously, the garbage was simply put into one of the Russian cargo spacecraft of the Progress series, which was then sent to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Waste collection in space is a long-standing and little-discussed problem on board the ISS. Four astronauts can generate up to 2.5 tons of garbage per year or about two garbage cans per week. At a time when more and more people are living and working in space, this is a critical function that requires a new approach,” explained Cooper Reed, head of the Bishop Airlock program at Nanoracks.
The airlock garbage containers were created by the Texas company Nanoracks. They can hold 272 kg of unwanted material. The new system means astronauts can now safely dispose of debris on a more regular basis rather than allowing it to accumulate inside the station.
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