PSU engineering experiments head to space

May help humans get to Mars

Two experiments designed by Portland State graduate student Kyle Viestenz and PSU engineering professor Mark Weislogel were sent to the International Space Station via an unmanned SpaceX rocket on June 3, 2017.

“It’s great to see PSU students involved,” Weislogel said. “PSU students are graduating and building things to be sent into space. These are undergraduate students and graduate students. It’s pretty neat.”

One of the technologies on board scrubs carbon dioxide from the air to make it safe to breathe. The second technology is a brine treatment designed to extract 100 percent water out of waste such as urine and vapor.

“There are two experiments,” Weislogel said. “There is the brine treatment one, and the idea is that you’ve got to get all of the water out of it. If you don’t you probably won’t get to Mars. Water is heavy and dense and you don’t want to be carrying too much of it. So what we’re trying to do is brine drying and full recovery of the water: 100 percent recycled water.”

Viestenz, currently pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and Weislogel, an expert in fluid dynamics, both work for PSU technology spin off company IRPI. Weislogel has also worked on other experiments for ISS, such as a zero-gravity coffee cup.

“What’s really interesting is that we [humans] have been going to space a lot but it’s only low-orbit,” Weislogel said. “Deep space is different. The International Space Station gets resupplied constantly with more food, water, equipment, and people, but long trips are much different. It’s not going to be possible to send for repairs or more staff on a two-year mission to Mars. Basically, if the toilet goes down, the whole crew dies.”

Both experiments require no moving parts, making them ideal for long-distance space travel.

In a PSU press release, Viestenz explained that the CO2 scrubber experiment could also be used on Earth to clean inside cars and airtight buildings.