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Recycling in Space: Waste Handling in a Microgravity Environment

NASA
Owner: NASA
Fields of Research: Aerospace Engineering, Environmental Science and Management, Environmental Engineering
Tags: Recycling, Microgravity environment, Space, NASA
Audience: All Audiences
Anticipated Funding: A$15,000
Submission deadline: January 16, 2019
Last Updated: November 20, 2018 3:14 AM
Challenge image

The Challenge

On Earth, recycling technologies can utilize gravity to move waste when converting it to new materials or constituent molecules. In a microgravity environment, however, technology is the only way to transfer the waste for processing. The aim of this Challenge is to identify receptacle and feeder mechanisms suitable for a microgravity environment that can deliver mission waste for decomposition.

NASA has developed a high temperature reactor that can recycle astronaut waste into valuable substances (water, gases & solids). During housekeeping duties, the astronaut will place mission waste into the receptacle in preparation for recycling. The feeder mechanism will take the waste from the receptacle and deliver it to the hot reactor for decomposition.

For a mission lasting one year, a team of four astronauts would generate approximately 2,500 kilograms of waste. Astronaut logistical waste can contain a variety of products, including:

  • Fabrics (from discarded clothing)
  • Foam
  • Food packaging
  • Human waste
  • Hygienic wipes
  • Low- & High-density plastics
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Paper


Given the volume and variety of waste products, it is crucial that NASA identify mechanisms to facilitate mission recycling.

Eligibility Criteria

The Competition is open to all individuals over the age of 18 at the time of entry or the age of majority in said individual's geographic location at the time of entry and to all validly formed legal entities in good standing which are permitted to participate by its charter or bylaws. 

NASA employees are prohibited by Federal statutes and regulations from receiving an award under this Competition. NASA Employees are still encouraged to submit a solution. If you are a NASA Employee and wish to submit a solution, please contact the Challenge Sponsor who will connect you with the NASA Challenge owner. If your solution meets the requirements of the Challenge, any attributable information will be removed from your submission and your solution will be evaluated with other solutions found to meet the Challenge criteria. Based on your solution, you may be eligible for an award under the NASA Awards and Recognition Program or other Government Award and Recognition Program if you meet the criteria of both this Challenge and the applicable Awards and Recognition Program. If you are an Employee of another Federal Agency, contact your Agency’s Office of General Counsel regarding your ability to participate in this Competition. 

If you are a Government contractor or are employed by one, your participation in this Competition may also be restricted. If you are or your employer is receiving Government funding for similar projects, you or your employer are not eligible for award under this Competition. Additionally, the U.S. Government may have Intellectual Property Rights in your solution if your solution was made under a Government Contract, Grant or Cooperative Agreement. Under such conditions, you may not be eligible for award. 

If you work for a Government Contractor and this solution was made either under a Government Contract, Grant or Cooperative Agreement or while performing work for the employer, you should seek legal advice from your employer’s General Counsel on your conditions of employment which may affect your ability to submit a solution to this Challenge and/or to accept award.

 Employees and family members of NineSigma and any of their respective affiliates and subsidiaries are not eligible to enter this Competition. Responses from companies (small to large), academic researchers, other research institutes, consultants, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs or inventors are welcome. 

You are solely responsible for all hardware, software, and internet service connections and any service fees associated with such access necessary to submit your Entry as well as all costs incurred by you or on your behalf to participate in the Competition.

Terms and conditions

Terms and conditions can be viewed here.

How to apply

More information can be viewed here.