OSCAR ‘Trash-to-Gas’ Technology Readied for Thermal Tests

David Rinderknecht, a chemical engineer, and Malay Shah, a thermal/fluid analysis engineer, prepare the Orbital Syngas Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR) for thermal testing Jan. 26, 2021. (Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The Orbital Syngas Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR) underwent thermal testing on Jan. 26 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The tests are preparation for a scheduled suborbital flight test later this year facilitated by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

The testing ensures that the thermal environment of the payload won’t create additional hazards during flight and that OSCAR can successfully operate within the temperature range it may encounter as it performs tests in microgravity.

Begun as an Early Career Initiative project, OSCAR evaluates technology to make use of trash and human waste generated during long-duration spaceflight – specifically, how to convert waste into useful gases such as methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. By processing small pieces of trash in a high-temperature reactor, OSCAR would reduce the amount of space needed for waste storage within a spacecraft and ensure waste is no longer biologically active.

Another potential benefit is making in-flight maneuvers more efficient by reducing trash mass on the spacecraft. Further development could allow astronauts to turn some waste into gases that have propulsive energy storage and life support applications.