Over the past twenty-five years, Particle Technology Labs has received tens of thousands of different sample types from all kinds of industries. From pharmaceuticals, to food, to municipalities, it would be a tough challenge to find a product or industry PTL has not touched in some way. However, once in a great while, a request to analyze something very unusual will come in and a palatable wave of excitement can be felt throughout the laboratory.
It may seem rather surprising that the excitement all started with a request to analyze water. Something so intrinsic that we see and use every day suddenly became extraordinary when correspondence regarding this request started arriving in our in-boxes. Phrases such as, “launched by rocket,” “transported from ISS” (International Space Station), and “for purpose of human space exploration” seemed more like a work of science fiction than an actual request for analysis.
The water samples belong to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, Japan’s national aerospace agency similar to our NASA here in the United States. This is part of a research project developed by JAXA studying how water can be treated and recycled on-board spacecraft that will be suitable for human consumption during future long-term space travel missions.
On April 17, 2017, we had the pleasure of hosting Tomoka Nagase, and Naoko Iwata, Engineer and Human Spaceflight Technology Directorates at JAXA. Dr. Nagase and Dr. Iwata visited PTL to observe the analysis of their space water in our laboratory.
The water, which is gathered from human waste and condensation, was treated with nanobubbles as a biocide, and then recycled back into potable water.
Presently, water is being recycled in space. However, there are some issues with the current processes.
JAXA’s study of nanobubbles is showing promise as an improved method to recycle water. So far, their findings have shown it is harmless to humans and has been proven to be effective against E. coli and other bacteria. There is no need to filter the water before drinking, and the process may be able to maintain a longer period of disinfecting performance.
In December of 2016, several samples of JAXA’s treated water were launched and stowed on the International Space Station. The first of these samples arrived back to Earth in April and was shipped to PTL where we analyzed the water for concentration and distribution of nanobubbles using Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis. The water also underwent other testing by JAXA outside of PTL’s laboratory. Over the next two years, remaining samples will be returned from space on a scheduled basis and tested for antimicrobial effectiveness and performance over time.
Particle Technology Labs is very proud to have been included as a small part in JAXA’s mission, which may change the way water is processed and recycled in space.