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September 07, 2012

Water Walls: Highly Reliable and Massively Redundant Life Support Architecture

NASA - Water Walls (WW) takes an approach to providing a life support system that is biologically and chemically passive, using mechanical systems only for plumbing to pump fluids such as gray water from the source to the point of processing. The core processing technology of Water Walls is FORWARD OSMOSIS (FO). Each cell of the WW system consists of a polyethylene bag or tank with one or more FO membranes to provide the chemical processing of waste. WW provides four principal functions of processing cells in four different types plus the common function of radiation shielding:

1. Gray water processing for urine and wash water,
2. Black water processing for solid waste,
3. Air processing for CO2 removal and O2 revitalization,
4. Food growth using green algae, and
5. Provide radiation protection to the crew habitat (all cells).




Although chemically and biologically different, these cells are physically similar in size and shape, so they can be physically integrated into the WW system. With this cellular and modular approachWW system is designed to be highly reliable by being massively redundant. As part of the spacecraft design, the replaceable cells and modules are installed in the structural matrix. Before departure, they are primed with water and starter ion solutions. As one cell for each function is used up, it is turned off; the next one is turned on by opening valves to admit the appropriate fluids. The spacecraft carries backup FO bags and/or membranes. The crew can replace exhausted cells with new units. In this concept, WW can replace much of the conventional mechanically-driven life support that is so failure-prone with a reliable system that also affords “non-parasitic” radiation shielding and can grow basic protein and carbohydrates to sustain the crew over multi-year missions.


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