Space Poop Challenge

the challenge
Competition to source a system that routes and collects human waste away from the body, hands-free, for fully suited astronauts. Read Overview...
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20123 followers
5912 shares
stage
Judging
Total Prize Amount
$30,000
Sponsored by

The Problem

In space, no one can hear you flush. This is because in space, there are no toilets. While you may go about your life mostly unaffected by this, it is more of a challenge for our brave astronauts in their space suits. 

After all: when you gotta go, you gotta go. And sometimes you gotta go in a total vacuum.


What You Can Do To Cause A Breakthrough

  • Read the complete challenge guidelines to see the rules and requirements for entry into the challenge.
  • “Accept Challenge” by clicking the button above to compete in the challenge. 
  • Follow the challenge above to be notified of any status updates to the challenge.
  • Share this challenge on social media using the icons above. Show your friends, your family, or anyone you know who has a passion for discovery.
  • Start a conversation in our Forum to join the conversation, ask questions or connect with other innovators.

 

Background

Current space suits are worn for launch and entry activities and in-space activities to protect the crew from any unforeseen circumstances that the space environment can cause. A crew member could find themselves in this suit for up to 10 hours at a time nominally for launch or landing, or up to 6 days if something catastrophic happens while in space.

The old standby solution consisted of diapers, in case astronauts needed to relieve themselves. However, the diaper is only a very temporary solution, and doesn’t provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day.

 

What a Breakthrough Looks Like

What's needed is a system inside a space suit that collects human waste for up to 144 hours and routes it away from the body, without the use of hands. The system has to operate in the conditions of space - where solids, fluids, and gases float around in microgravity (what most of us think of as "zero gravity") and don't necessarily mix or act the way they would on earth. This system will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over 6 days, or 144 hrs.

Yes, the guidelines specify that entries must be made in English to be considered for a prize. 

Please refer to the forum for some helpful posts about translation, like this one

Yes, this challenge permits the submission of multiple enteries per person or team. 

For 144 hours, it is expected that the astronauts would be consuming food in more or less a liquid state. The astronauts would have a reduced caloric intake, from a nominal 3,035 kilo-calories per day (50% carbohydrates, 10-14 grams of fiber) to 1,500 kilo-calories per day. Both the liquid diet and reduced calories would help ease some of the solid waste output from the person. However, there will be solid waste left in their system for the first few days, which will eventually be cleared out and need to be properly handled by a waste management system. 

For such a scenario when they’ll be needing a waste management system for up to 6 days, they’ll be consuming water and food from a feedport in their helmet. Some images of how a feedport has been used from Apollo can be found here.


It essentially operates by allowing a straw-type device to pass through into the helmet cavity, and have a crewmember suck out either the water or liquid food contents from the attached pouch.

The following link provides detailed information on the ACES suit, and how it was used during the Space Shuttle program: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/pdf/383443main_crew_escape_workbook.pdf

Not all of the details relating to airflow through the suit and external suit equipment will remain true for the MACES (Modified ACES), however it provides you a basis for your design!

Going into this challenge, we didn’t expect anyone to have full knowledge of the suit system, and fully understand how to integrate it into the current system. We’re hoping for overall ideas that we can then work with to integrate into our overall bigger picture.

Additional information about average body sizes and the current ACES suit can be found in the Resources section.  Also, check out this Forum post for some crowdsourced information regarding space suits.

A partial solution is more than welcome! However, more detailed submissions have a better chance of getting a higher score through the judging process. This helps give us evidence that there was some thought put into the design and/or that it is feasible If you can include additional clarification, with whatever resources you know exist, it would be greatly appreciated!


We are ultimately looking for a sound design that someone has taken time to analyze that it could work (in terms of microgravity environment, pressures, volume capacities, etc) provided the details we’ve given.

The guidelines state that solutions should be comprised of technologies at a minimum Technical Readiness Level (TRL) of level 4, such that the Solution can be tested within 1 year and fully implemented within 3 years.

 

Both a liquid diet and reduced calories would help ease some of the solid waste output from the person. However, there will be solid waste left in their system for the first few days, which will eventually be cleared out and need to be properly handled by a waste management system. 

The best solutions should be able to handle a wide range of stool types. 

"Away from the body" does mean that it can be inside or outside the suit. We just want to ensure that the waste doesn't maintain contact with the skin, as this can be hazardous to crew health.

Check out this youtube video for a great example of how liquids tend to stay in contact with skin in microgravity.

It is possible to return to saved drafts and submitted entries until the challenge submission deadline. While signed in to your HeroX account, a big blue button with the title of the draft entry will appear on the challenge homepage. Clicking this button will return you to the submission page to make any required edits.

If you wish to unsubscribe from the forum emails, scroll to the bottom of one of the emails you have received and click the "unsubscribe" button. This should stop any further emails.

Please reach out to us using the "Contact Us" link and we'll get back to you as soon as we can to help troubleshoot!