Water: A Critical Material Enabling Space Exploration

Originally delivered Feb 18, 2015
Source: AIChE
  • Type:
    Archived Webinar
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  • Duration:
    1 hour
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Water is one of the most critical materials in human spaceflight. The availability of water defines the duration of a space mission; the volume of water required for a long duration space mission becomes too large, heavy, and expensive for launch vehicles to carry. Since the mission duration is limited by the amount of water a space vehicle can carry, the capability to recycle water enables space exploration. In addition, water management in microgravity impacts spaceflight in other respects, such as the recent emergency termination of a spacewalk caused by free water in an astronaut’s spacesuit helmet.

A variety of separation technologies are used onboard spacecraft to ensure that water is always available for use, and meets the stringent water quality required for human space exploration. These separation technologies are often adapted for use in a microgravity environment, where water behaves in unique ways. The use of distillation, membrane processes, ion exchange and granular activated carbon are reviewed. Examples of microgravity effects on operations are presented. A roadmap for future technologies, needed to supply water resources for the exploration of Mars, is also reviewed.


Karen Pickering

Dr. Karen Pickering has worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center since 1991, working in water recovery systems technology development in roles ranging from subsystem engineer to project manager.

She is currently the Deputy Chief of the Thermal Systems Branch, leading engineers responsible for active thermal control of the International Space Station as well as development of advanced thermal technologies. 

Dr. Pickering earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University. She earned Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees...Read more

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