Russia is Developing a Special Space Washing Machine

washing machine
File photo: A Russian company is reportedly developing a special washing machine which can be used by astronauts in space. iStock

Russia has announced that it is developing a specialized washing machine for astronauts to use in space. The announcement came from ballistic missile, spacecraft and space station manufacturer RKK Energiya which posted a video on YouTube outlining plans for the innovative device, AFP reported.

"By the way, for future lunar expeditions and other interplanetary crafts, RKK Energiya has started developing a special space washing machine," the voiceover in the video says, although the clip does not provide further details on the design.

Because normal washing machines require gravity to function—not to mention significant amounts of water that has to be stored somewhere and increases weight—they are not suitable for space missions. This means that astronauts cannot wash their clothes and either have to pack enough for their whole trip or rely on costly resupply missions and dispose of used items by throwing them into space.

Crewmembers taking part in long-term missions—for example, a six-month stint on the International Space Station—often end up wearing the same garments for several consecutive days and just change into new ones one when they get dirty.

Aside from this issue, wearing dirty clothes can be uncomfortable for the astronauts and could also provide perfect conditions for dangerous microbes to grow and spread, according to Space Safety Magazine.

RKK Energiya has previously outlined plans for a space washing machine in a Russian space industry journal paper published in 2017. The designs showed a device which could be incorporated into the ISS.

In the paper, the authors estimated that a staggering 1,450 pounds of clothes are transported to the ISS every year to cover the requirements of just three astronauts. And this quantity could increase to three tonnes for a two-year voyage to Mars involving six crewmembers, the authors say, and could increase the costs and complexity of a mission.

"On-board equipment for hygienic treatment [washing] could significantly lessen the stocks of personal hygiene products and items of clothing," the authors of the paper noted.

The Russian scientists said that, instead of water, the washing machine would harness the carbon dioxide produced by the astronauts' breathing in the spacecraft. Special technology would then turn the gas into a liquid under high pressure in order to clean the clothes.

The Russian designs are not the first proposals for a space washing machine. NASA has previously commissioned a prototype of a low-power, low-water washing device which was designed to work in the microgravity of low-Earth orbit or that of the moon or Mars.