Collins Aerospace has secured a contract from Nasa to develop an integrated on-site trash compaction and processing system.

Designed to handle astronaut trash in-situ, the system will be developed under Nasa’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2) initiative.

It will be based on Collins’ Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) experience to safely recover and process valuable resources from the trash compaction system.

The system is also expected to reduce the loss of cabin air while recovering the maximum amount of water.

Using the compaction process, the system is also anticipated to cut trash volume by 93%, thereby turning 2ft³ of trash into a 9in x 9in x 1.75in disc, or converting the size of a beer keg to a small pizza.

“Astronaut trash poses a significant challenge for future missions to the Moon and Mars.”

Collins is expected to develop and test the design of the system over an 18-month period, while Nasa will conduct a preliminary design review (PDR) once the system is developed.

This phase will follow a second stage involving procurement.

Collins Aerospace Space Systems senior business manager Shawn Macleod said: “Astronaut trash poses a significant challenge for future missions to the Moon and Mars.

“Right now, the crew on the International Space Station generates roughly 2ft³ of trash per day, and a resupply vehicle comes and hauls it away about every four months.

“On the 18-month journey to Mars, that will not be an option. To facilitate longer missions, we need a new way to handle trash in-situ, and our system offers the solution.”

The current methods of managing astronaut trash involve temporarily storing and disposing them on Earth or incineration during re-entry in a disposable supply vehicle.

According to Collins, returning trash to Earth is not a practical solution while abandoning it during the mission could lead to the loss of valuable recoverable items and trash disposal could pose a planetary protection risk.

The company’s new system aims to address these issues.