ISS Water Recycling: NASA Just Recycled 98% Of All Astronaut Pee and Sweat Aboard the International Space Station

ISS water recycling is one of the most essential requirements astronauts need to survive aboard the orbiting laboratory. NASA through its astronauts aboard the International Space Station succeeded in recycling 98 percent of all crew pee and sweat on the International Space Station. The American space agency and its partners have been trying to improve their water recycling potential aboard the orbiting laboratory.

They achieved a greater milestone during the recent testing conducted on the ISS. NASA aimed the water recycling procedures to provide astronauts aboard the space station with their basic needs without launching a resupply mission. Keep in mind that every astronaut aboard the space station needs about a gallon of water every day for drinking, food preparation, and executing other personal hygiene such as brushing of teeth, bathing, and others.

While NASA has attained several milestones in its plans for recovering water aboard the ISS, the agency succeeded in recycling 98% of the entire water waste of the crew.

“This is a very important step forward in the evolution of life support systems,” Christopher Brown, a team member at Johnson Space Center that manages life support systems on the ISS, said in a statement. “Let’s say you launch with 100 pounds of water. You lose 2 pounds of that, and the other 98% just keeps going around and around. Keeping that running is a pretty awesome achievement.”

How NASA achieved Its Goal of ISS Water Recycling Up To 98% Of All Astronaut Pee and Sweat Aboard the International Space Station

NASA achieved 98% ISS water recycling aboard the orbiting laboratory by using the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) while demonstrating the enhanced Urine Processor Assembly (UPA). The agency recovers water from urine while using vacuum distillation during the demonstration process.

The ECLSS consists of a combination of hardware such as a Water Recovery System that collects wastewater and advanced dehumidifiers. These advanced dehumidifiers trap moisture from the air of the orbiting laboratory coming from astronauts’ breath and sweat. The extracted water is then transferred to the Water Processor Assembly (WPA) to produce drinkable water.

The improved Urine Processor Assembly element of the Environmental Control and Life Support System distills the crew’s urine to create water and also creates brine as a by-product from the process. Some unused water still remains in the system after the distillation. The UPA also houses a Brine Processor Assembly (BPA) that extracts the remaining wastewater, thereby improving the usefulness of the system. During the demonstration in space, the BPA boosted the efficiency of the ECLSS to achieve a 98% ISS water recycling goal.

“Before the BPA, our total water recovery was between 93 and 94% overall,” said ECLSS water subsystems manager Jill Williamson. “We have now demonstrated that we can reach [a] total water recovery of 98%, thanks to the brine processor.”

What Happens After The Process of ISS Water Recycling

The Brine Processor Assembly processes the brine produced by the UPA before passing it through several special membranes. These processes introduce the brine to a warm dry air that evaporates its water. The outcome of this process creates humid air that is different from the breath of the crew aboard the ISS. The ECLSS dehumidifiers collect the humid air and treat it.

The WPA treats wastewater by using several filters and a catalytic reactor that eliminates any trace of contaminants that still remain in the water. Several sensors serve the purpose of inspecting the purity of the water to check if it meets the standard. After the inspection, some water content that does not meet the standard is sent back to the system the repeat the entire process. The acceptable water added iodine to prevent the growth of microbes. After that, the water is later stored for the crew to use in the future.

“The processing is fundamentally similar to some terrestrial water distribution systems, just done in microgravity,” Williamson revealed. “The crew is not drinking urine; they are drinking water that has been reclaimed, filtered, and cleaned such that it is cleaner than what we drink here on Earth. We have a lot of processes in place and a lot of ground testing to provide confidence that we are producing clean, potable water,” Williamson added.

How Efficient Are the ECLSS Systems

The ECLSS systems have passed through a series of testing to prove reliability and efficiency in the microgravity of space. These tests also revealed that these systems reached a high-performing level and operate effectively for the long term without the need for complex maintenance or replacement of parts. ISS water recycling has become more efficient with the aid of the ECLSS systems.

“The regenerative ECLSS systems become ever more important as we go beyond low Earth orbit. The inability to resupply during exploration means we need to be able to reclaim all the resources the crew needs on these missions,” Williamson concluded. “The less water and oxygen we have to ship up, the more science that can be added to the launch vehicle. Reliable, robust regenerative systems mean the crew doesn’t have to worry about it and can focus on the true intent of their mission.”


The ECLSS systems have proven NASA can recycle up to 98% of water aboard the International Space Station. With the operation procedure of this technology, we will advance to use it beyond low Earth orbit. What do you think about this fascinating technology for ISS water recycling?

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