Browse Publications Technical Papers 2003-01-2369

Plastic Waste Processing and Volume Reduction for Resource Recovery and Storage in Space 2003-01-2369

This paper describes work that has begun at Ames Research Center on development of a heat melt compactor that can be used on near term and future missions. The heat melt compactor can handle wastes with a significant plastic composition and minimize crew interaction.
The current solid waste management system employed on the International Space Station (ISS) consists of compaction, storage, and disposal. Wastes such as plastic food packaging and trash are compacted manually and wrapped in duct taped “footballs” by the astronauts. Much of the waste is simply loaded into the empty Russian Progress spacecraft that is used to bring supplies to ISS. The progress spacecraft and its contents are intentionally burned up in the earth's atmosphere during reentry. This manual method of trash management on ISS is a wasteful use of crew time and does not transition well to far term missions.
Different wastes onboard spacecraft vary considerably in their characteristics and in the appropriate method of management. In advanced life support systems for far term missions, recovery of resources such as water from the wastes becomes important. However waste such as plastic food packaging, which constitutes a large fraction of solid waste (roughly 21% on ISS, more on long duration missions), contains minimal recoverable resource. The appropriate management of plastic waste is waste stabilization (or sterilization), volume and resource recovery.
The heat melt compactor takes advantage of the low melting point of plastics to compact plastic materials using a combination of heat and pressure. The US Navy has demonstrated successful development of a similar unit for shipboard application. Ames is building upon the basic approach demonstrated by the Navy to develop an advanced heat melt type compactor for space mission type wastes


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