Leaky Space Toilets: SpaceX’s Latest Engineering Challenge

But the toilet problems didn’t end there. Another Crew Dragon capsule that docked at the space station in April with four astronauts on board has the same plumbing system as the Inspiration4 capsule. SpaceX engineers feared that the same “contamination” had occurred on this spacecraft.

The engineers’ suspicions were well founded.

NASA astronauts living on the station snaked an endoscope device – a cable with a tiny camera on the end – under the floor of the capsule and found traces of urine where it shouldn’t. be, said Mr. Gerstenmaier. “Yes, there was an indication of some contamination under the ground,” he said.

This raised new concerns. In space, urine is mixed with a potentially corrosive compound, oxone, to remove ammonia. Could the urine containing oxone, which had remained in the capsule for months, have corroded crucial material?

To answer that question, Gersteinmaier said, SpaceX engineers on Earth put together aluminum parts similar to those on the spacecraft and created a urine sample mixed with oxone. They soaked the parts and placed them in a chamber that mimicked the humidity conditions on board the space station for “an extended period,” Gerstenmaier said.

The wayward waste inside the Inspiration4 capsule was bulkier than the contamination found on the capsule attached to the space station, he said, as passengers used the capsule for three days while the astronauts launched into the air. towards the space station are usually in orbit for about 24 hours. . Ground test results seem positive so far, he said: “Fortunately, or, on purpose, we have chosen an aluminum alloy that is very insensitive to corrosion.”

This capsule is expected to undock from the station in November and return home with the four astronauts it delivered in April. Ground tests with oxone and urine are continuing.

“We have a few more samples that we will be taking out of the chamber,” Gerstenmaier said. He did not say who provided the samples.


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