Advanced air filtration hardware developed, built, and tested at Marshall Space Flight Center is now installed and working on the International Space Station.
For the next year, the new 4-Bed Carbon Dioxide Scrubber will augment existing elements of the station’s Environmental Control and Life Support Systems, demonstrating next-generation life support system capabilities that could help future explorers on the Moon and Mars breathe easier.
“The Marshall team has supported scientific discovery – and crew health – on the International Space Station for 20 years,” Joseph Pelfrey, manager of Marshall’s Human Exploration Development & Operations Office, said. “With the delivery of the new carbon dioxide scrubber, we are using our expertise to expand the bounds of human exploration.”
The new hardware was delivered to the station by the Cygnus spacecraft Aug. 10, part of Northrop Grumman’s 16th commercial resupply services mission.
The scrubber hardware will help recycle and regenerate most of the air and water necessary to sustain the station crew, using commercial adsorbent materials to retain water vapor while filtering carbon dioxide out of the station’s airflow. It also will help steer development of future regenerative technology solutions for Artemis missions to the Moon and eventual human excursions to Mars.
The 4-Bed Carbon Dioxide Scrubber is a design iteration of the current Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly, which has been recycling air on the space station since 2001. The latest upgrades, incorporating numerous changes to improve durability and maintainability, are crucial to future crewed missions beyond Earth orbit.
Once its year of technology demonstration ends and its capabilities are proven, the new hardware will be integrated into the space station’s closed-loop recycling system for a minimum of three years to further demonstrate its viability for long-duration exploration missions and to contribute to station crew life support capabilities.
As many as 100 Marshall engineers, materials researchers, and safety personnel, plus sensor, filtration, and pump hardware specialists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, had a hand in the design, fabrication, and testing of the new hardware unit, said Donnie McCaghren, project manager for the 4-bed CO2 scrubber at Marshall.
“Our primary goal was increasing efficiency and maintainability, to ensure fully functioning, longer-lasting hardware in orbit with less need for crew maintenance,” he said.
The new hardware is roughly the size of a small refrigerator and weighs approximately 450 pounds. Its operation is overseen in orbit by mission controllers at Johnson, with continuing contributions by Marshall space station hardware engineers.
Editor’s note: Rick Smith, a Manufacturing Technical Solutions employee, supports Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications.