Threatened water shortage on ISS


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The crash of Antares and its Cygnus capsule in October has caused the possibility of a water shortage on ISS.

NASA had planned to certify Cygnus to carry water to the space station in early 2015; there were no plans for certifying SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship to do the same. Orbital plans to launch its next Cygnus aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, but that flight is not scheduled until Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, ESA has ended flights of its ATV cargo ship, which was certified to carry water. With the ATV program over and Cygnus off-line, the space station was left with two vehicles capable of carrying water, the Russian Progress and Japanese HTV.

HTV flights are now limited to once per year; the next one is planned for August 17, just over two weeks before ISS would run out of water on Sept. 2 unless it was resupplied by other vehicles. The schedule provided very little margin for error, ASAP said.

Essentially, if either a Progress or Dragon capsule does not bring additional water to the station before August, and the HTV flight fails or is delayed by more than two weeks, the station will run out of water in early September, requiring its evacuation.

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6 comments

  • geoffc

    The fundamental issue is ISS was designed expecting regular shuttle visits, whose fuel cells produced copious amounts of water, during their visit. So did not really have to ‘bring’ water, they were ‘making’ water.

    Loss of the Shuttle visits has interesting side affects.

  • D.K. Williams

    Good point, Geoff.

  • Pzatchok

    Were is all the water on board going now?

    Its a closed system. Any waste products are compacted and semi dried before being send off station. The water should be recycled.

    If they are using it for experiments then each experiment should be sending up its own supply of water for that experiment.

    And actually each flight up should be sending a few gallons of water with passengers and or cargo. No matter what.

  • ISS is not a closed system, especially when it comes to water. There are systems to try and reuse water, but none of them are sufficient to supply the station without supplements from Earth.

  • Max

    The space shuttle external tank had enough reserve fuel to last the astronauts generations. The hydrogen and (breathable) oxygen could’ve been used for generating power with drinking water as the exhaust. Also helpful for repositioning to a different orbit. Every external tank had the volume space of a 747 fuselage. Skin thick enough to hold high pressure, insulated from the cold and the heat, and could withstand minor meteor showers and radiation… I sure hope they did not use that fuel for reentry as they told us, it would be a shame to have put such a fantastic living space into orbit just to Junk it.
    The thick walled bottles were designed to be reused and assembled as a spinning space station, or lunar habitats once they were remotely landed. The building materials and tools were secured inside of the external tank before launch into space. The airlock would also be pre-installed and ready for use, this is why these containers were made by the manufacturer of submarines.
    How many shuttle launches were there? I sincerely hope these large safe housing modules were parked nearby, like in a 28 day orbit on the far side of the moon…

  • Edward

    Sorry to disappoint you, Max, but despite a lot of talk and suggestions in the 1980s to use the Space Shuttle external tanks as you suggested, each and every one of them reentered the atmosphere a few minutes after they were jettisoned from the Shuttle.

    Many of us are likewise disappointed that we didn’t keep some of the tanks for use as space stations, fuel tanks for a Mars mission, or other possible purposes.

    There is a problem with the residual fuel and oxidizer (ulage), however. Even on orbit, it would tend to evaporate over time, and likely would have to be purged overboard, to prevent the tanks from bursting, before we could have used them or transferred them to smaller and better-insulated (or actively cooled) tanks. Thus, it was unlikely that we could have used that particular resource, despite its value.

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