The current generation of spacecraft and terrestrial water recovery technologies are often prone to failures caused by biofouling and mineral scaling, which can clog mechanical systems and degrade the performance of capillary-based technologies. These failures require expensive and time-consuming maintenance and resupply, and the technologies are therefore limited to environments where these resources are available. Long duration spaceflight applications, such as extended stays at a Lunar Outpost or during a Mars transit mission, will increasingly benefit from water recovery hardware that is generally more robust and operationally sustainable over time, and that minimizes the impact of fouling and hardware failures.
Our proposed water recovery concept takes advantage of the partial gravity on Mars or the lunar surface, while also being microgravity compatible. This will allow for a single water recovery system for both transit and planetary mission phases. This next-generation solid-state water recovery system for spacecraft will exploit a combination of advances in three areas of research, in order to manage wastewater recovery without rotating phase separators or chemical pretreatment. These research areas are:
The Nanophotonic Capillary Distiller concept can be applied to a wide spectrum of spacecraft fluid management systems, for both short-term use and long-duration missions. The design will be adaptable to both microgravity and partial gravity environments, will target a 6-12 month transit period, operational periods in excess of 500 days, and a dormancy of two years or more.
Potential applications for uses other than with NASA missions include terrestrial wastewater management, water treatment and desalination in particular in remote, resource constrained environments.