Japan’s space agency develops new filter to recycle urine

Japan’s astronauts could be drinking water distilled from their own urine in the near future, thanks to the latest innovation from Japan’s space agency.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, is testing a new filter designed to process astronauts’ urine into clean drinking water. File Photo Maxim Shipenkov/

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said they have developed a distiller, used during space flight, that converts urine into potable water, Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday.

Satoshi Matsumoto said the device can help with the efficient use of water during space expeditions.

“Technology that can allow for the efficient use of water during long missions to the moon or Mars is extremely important,” Matsumoto said, according to the report.

The device can convert about 85 percent of human urine into drinking water.

JAXA’s invention will be delivered in the fall to the International Space Station, or ISS, currently in low Earth orbit. The ISS is a joint project with the United States, Russia, Europe and Canada.

The device will be tested in orbit. It would then send distilled urine samples to Earth for analysis of water quality, according to JAXA.

JAXA’s appliance would remove impurities from urine with a resin filter, and would be able to produce up to 0.8 liters of water daily through electrolysis.

Raising temperatures and increasing pressure during experiments showed the recycling rate can be raised as high as 85 percent, higher than the distiller and filters developed by NASA, designed to process astronauts’ urine and sweat into clean drinking water.

Japan’s space agency is testing the new distiller at a time when it is building a new system for space-related startup businesses.

The Nikkei Asian Review reported JAXA is turning to smaller startups to produce new business ideas and applications.

“Startups may not have money, but they have a sharper focus and more innovative ideas,” said Nobutaka Komatsu, an investment analyst and member of a JAXA panel on space solar panels.

ByElizabeth Shim