But there’s one thing hardly anybody thinks of. And while it’s hardly one of those “straight-from-science-fiction” systems, it’s exceptionally important.
We’re talking about the trash compactor.
Collins Aerospace, one of four businesses of Raytheon Technologies, is working on a trash compactor that could solve a number of problems posed when you venture into deep space. This is one of the many ways Raytheon Technologies is advancing space exploration. Collins Aerospace also provides life support systems, such as CO2 scrubbing technology for astronauts aboard the International Space Station and also helped design the space suits that enabled space walks for past and present NASA astronauts. Raytheon Technologies’ RGNext, a joint venture that provides launch range services, tests and evaluates operations and catalogs space objects.
But for now, back to the trash compactor.
According to NASA, astronauts aboard the ISS produce two tons of trash every couple of months. Their procedure for handling it is much the same as ours; jam it into bags and wait for someone to come haul it away.
Someone, in this case, are the resupply vehicles. While that works fine for the ISS, it won’t do for a mission to Mars. The system Collins is building can help – it can take a heap of trash the size of a beer keg and squash it into something just as round but substantially more flat.
“We're in the early stages of that proof of concept,” said Shawn Macleod, an associate director of civil space and sea systems at Collins Aerospace. “The idea of this trash compactor is you're just going to take all of your trash on orbit, except for human waste, throw it in this compactor and smash it down to the size of a pizza.”
Protecting against space radiation
“Trash pizzas” is fun to say, but it turns out they may also be incredibly useful.
Specifically, they might help shield the intrepid explorers against the harmful radiation outside Earth’s magnetosphere and atmosphere. NASA estimates that astronauts experience enough radiation to equal 150 to 1,600 chest X-Rays. Prolonged missions require extra shielding, as neither Mars nor the moon has natural defenses against space radiation.
Much of the trash from space missions is plastic, made of polyethylene, and better at reducing radiation than metals. These trash discs can be outfitted to space vessels to increase radiation shielding as the astronauts travel farther along on their voyage.