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Space Age Water

Space travel water 01

Space travel water recycling unit

Municipalities the world over provide utility services such as water and sanitation, electricity, road repairs and much much more.  The adequacy of the service is very variable and has much to do with the vociferousness of the rate paying public.  Adequate service is not good enough in a space station.  Here the municipality has to provide a top-notch service.  The client base is small and the stakes are high.  A small slip up can cause extreme discomfort.   Lets look at water.  On the International Space Station roughly 93% of all water is recycled for re-use.  Water vapour,  grey water, black water - all water is collected, treated and re-used for any activity, personal or otherwise requiring water.

93%  is impressive for several reasons.  It is a major saving in carting around water with attendant logistical and lift-off costs.  It is also impressive that in a zero gravity environment, almost every drop of water is collected at a central point for recycling.  It is said that nature abhors a vacuum.  At the ISS, in an extremely unnatural environment, the vacuum is used extensively.  The humble toilet works on a vacuum principle - and thank goodness for that.

Treatment of water in the space station is surprisingly simple.  Firstly filtration, advanced oxidation and finally evapouration and precipitation.  The last step is not so simple though.  With no gravity to collect vapour droplets, the separation process has to be conducted in a centrifuge - a small gravity simulator.  There are so many links in this mechanical chain.  To keep it all working, the astronauts need to have a thorough knowledge of the unit processes.  They also have to be practical.  Parts need replacement from time to time and sometimes things that go wrong were no mooted at the land based think tank sessions.  A boer maak 'n plan.  They would have been good astronauts.

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