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New life support rack for ISS
ACLS being lifted into HTV-7. © Airbus

New life support rack for ISS

The ACLS technology demonstrator, built by Airbus, is set for lift-off on Japan's HTV-7 cargo spacecraft on 11th September.

A technology demonstrator for a new Life Support Rack for the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to launch from Tanegashima, Japan on 11th September. The rack, also known as Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS), has been developed by Airbus for the European Space Agency (ESA). The system will purify air and produce oxygen for the ISS.

The Life Support Rack is stored in the pressurised part of the Japanese HTV-7 unmanned cargo spacecraft, which is currently being prepared for an ISS resupply mission. It will be installed into the Destiny Module (US Laboratory) by ESA astronaut and ISS commander Alexander Gerst on 2nd November.

The technology is seen as a critical step forward towards a closed loop life support system, necessary for human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit.

Air on the ISS has a higher carbon dioxide content than on Earth, on the order of 0.4%. ACLS will provide additional capacity to the existing ISS life support system to remove carbon dioxide from the cabin air. This is performed by two components: CO2 adsorption using Astrine (a solid amine resin), and use of a Sabatier reactor (using hydrogen to convert carbon dioxide into methane and water).

The third component of ESA´s new Rack is its electrolyser, which produces oxygen and hydrogen from water. The oxygen produced is used to replenish the cabin air, and the hydrogen is consumed by the Sabatier reactor.

A newly formed ACLS operations team (OPS), based at Airbus in Friedrichshafen, Germany, will operate the ACLS throughout its mission. ACLS OPS is part of the ISS’s ground network, and works directly with the ESA Columbus Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.

Following installation, the ACLS OPS team will commence a six-week commissioning phase to check the new facility. Successful commissioning will be followed by operations on the ISS until the end of 2019.

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