Portland State experiments headed for the International Space Station
Author: John Kirkland
Posted: June 2, 2017

Two experiments designed by a Portland State University graduate student and a faculty member are slated to be performed on the International Space Station (ISS) this summer. A SpaceX rocket, set to launch June 3 will deliver the experiment equipment to astronauts aboard ISS.

The experiments will test two technologies that are essential to long-distance manned space travel: recovering potable water from urine, vapor and other sources; and scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air so that it’s safe to breathe. 

The experiments were designed in part by PSU student Kyle Viestenz and engineering professor Mark Weislogel, both of whom work for a PSU technology spinoff company, IRPI. Viestenz is working on his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Weislogel, an expert in fluid dynamics, has designed other experiments that were performed on ISS, most recently a zero-gravity coffee cup.

The water recovery experiment uses specially designed capillary structures to evaporate water from brine. Evaporation is easy on Earth, Viestenz said, but it could be more difficult in zero gravity because there’s no buoyancy to aid the evaporation process. Astronauts will set up the equipment, fill them with liquid, and record the evaporation process.

The CO2 scrubber is another set of equipment that puts air in contact with a fluid that pulls out the CO2.  Viestenz said the scrubber could also be used on Earth to clean the air inside cars and airtight buildings.

Both technologies, if successful, would be ideal for long-distance space travel because they have no moving parts that could break down on a long journey. 

“Astronauts making the long journey to Mars – which will take months - must be able to recover nearly every drop of water and breath of air along the way,” Viestenz said.