ISS, new waste disposal technology

Arathi Nair
Arathi Nair July 16, 2022
Updated 2022/07/16 at 4:14 PM

Typically, while waiting for the Cygnus supply ship to reach the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts gather rubbish and keep it there for months.

The International Space Station has been used by NASA to test a brand-new waste management system created by Texas-based Nanoracks. The test showed a more effective and environmentally friendly method of eliminating garbage from the ISS, and it may prove to be a crucial new utility feature for all upcoming space stations.

Typically, ISS astronauts accumulate garbage and keep it there for months while they wait for the Cygnus cargo ship to reach the station. A “disposable” spaceship called Cygnus is used to deliver supplies to the space station. Astronauts load it up with trash bags when its primary job is finished, then they let go of the spaceship. It then deorbits and re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, where it burns up completely.


The novel idea created by Nanopracks makes use of a trash container that is mounted in the Bishop Airlock and is uniquely constructed. It can hold about 270 kg of garbage, according to the crew. Then the container is released, and much like the Cygnus method, it re-enters the atmosphere of Earth and totally burns up. Since astronauts do not have to wait for the cargo spacecraft to arrive in order to dispose of waste, this approach is seen to be more effective and environmentally friendly.

The container held about 78 kg of waste during the first test, including foam, packing materials, cargo transfer bags, soiled crew gear, hygiene items, and used office supplies.

“This successful test not only demonstrates the future of waste removal for space stations, but also highlights our ability to leverage the ISS as a commercial technology testbed, which provides critical insights into how we can prepare for the next phases of commercial LEO destinations. Thank you to NASA and the ISS Program for their continued support, and we look forward to continuing this collaboration,” said Nanoracks CEO Amela Wilson, in a company press statement.

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