There has been a lot of talk about the International Space Station (ISS) lately.
Approximately 172 pounds (78 kilograms) of trash was ejected in a special trash bag from the station’s commercial Bishop airlock on July 2, Nanoracks, the company that built and operated the airlock, announced (opens in new tab) in a press release on Wednesday (July 6).
The operation was a test of Nanoracks’ new orbital waste disposal technology and went smoothly, company officials said.
The garbage bag contained used foam, packaging materials, shipping bags, office supplies, crew hygiene products and crew clothing, Nanoracks officials said. The company added that it was considering deploying a similar disposal system on its proposed commercial space station, called Starlab, which is scheduled to fly in 2027.
“This is the first deployment of an airlock garbage bag ejection system on the ISS,” tweeted (opens in new tab) Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks the reentry of objects like this bag of garbage. (When the pouch will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere has not yet been announced.)
International Space Station: Facts, History and Tracking
So far, ISS crews have disposed of unneeded items by piling garbage into a cargo ship that would burn up in the atmosphere, ejecting decommissioned hardware like Russia’s Pirs module in 2021, or (on rare occasions) asking astronauts to carry small items hand-disposing of items during spacewalks, McDowell added.
But this novel waste disposal system on the ISS is not new to space travel as a whole.
“Recall that in the 1970s and 1980s, garbage bags were regularly dropped from the Soviet Salyut space stations,” McDowell said in another tweet (opens in new tab).
According to McDowell’s records, the last time such a jettison occurred from the Soviet-Russian Mir space station was in September 1996. This waste fraction naturally re-entered the atmosphere in May 1998.
Bishop Airlock, the world’s first commercial airlock, was installed on the outside of the ISS on December 23, 2020. The 2,000-pound (907-kilogram) facility was launched during the SpaceX CRS-2 resupply mission on June 6, 2020.
Trash was ejected from a “specially designed trash receptacle,” Nanoracks wrote in its press release, which has a maximum capacity of 600 pounds (272 kg). The ejection system is based on the Nanoracks CubeSat and SmallSat Deployers, which regularly deploy small satellites from the ISS.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. follow us on twitter @spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and further Facebook (opens in new tab).