NASA Tournament Lab

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Space Poop Challenge

Competition to source a system that routes and collects human waste away from the body, hands-free, for fully suited astronauts.
stage:
Won
prize:
$30,000
Overview

Challenge Overview

The Problem

In space, no one can hear you flush. That's because in space, there are no toilets. While you may go about your life mostly unaffected by this, it is more of a challenge for our brave astronauts, dwelling in their space suits. 

After all: when you gotta go, you gotta go. And sometimes you gotta go in a total vacuum.

 

Background

Current space suits are worn for launch and entry activities and in-space activities to protect the crew from any unforeseen circumstances that the space environment can cause. An astronaut might find themselves in this suit for up to 10 hours at a time nominally for launch or landing, or up to 6 days if something catastrophic happens while in space.

The old standby solution consisted of diapers in case astronauts needed to relieve themselves. However, the diaper is a low-tech and very temporary solution. Most significantly, it doesn’t provide a healthy or protective option longer than one day.

 

What a Breakthrough Looks Like

What this challenge set out to crowdsource was a complete system inside a space suit that collects human waste for up to 144 hours and routes it away from the body, without the use of hands. The system had to operate in the conditions of space - where solids, fluids, and gases float around in microgravity (what most of us think of as "zero gravity") and don't necessarily mix or act the way they would on earth.  No small task there. 

Ultimately, the system developed from this challenge will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over six days, or 144 hrs.

Guidelines

Challenge Guidelines

Challenge Overview

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) seeks proposed solutions for urine, fecal and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours. An in-suit waste management system would be beneficial for contingency scenarios or for any long duration tasks.

Waste management systems should address fecal, urine, and/or menstrual waste management in a pressurized survival suit environment for six days while protecting the safety and health of crew members. Solutions should provide for urine collection of up to 1L per day per crew member, for a total of 6 days. Fecal collection rates should be targeted for 75 grams of fecal mass and 75 mL fecal volume per crewmember per day for a total of 6 days duration. Menstrual collection systems should handle up to 80 mL over 6 days.

NASA will award the Solutions it judges to be the most promising for implementation and use on missions in the next three or four years.  NASA will consider collaborating with winners and/or other competitors, subject to NASA rules and regulations for contract procurement.

 

Background

Spaceflight launch and entry suits are worn for launch and entry activities to protect the crew from any off-nominal events. Up until now, a crew member could be in their launch and entry suit for more than 10 hours at a time leading up to either a launch or landing scenario, and former astronauts have worn diapers in case they need to relieve themselves.  The diaper is only used temporarily until the crew has successfully launched from or returned to Earth. It is eventually removed along with the launch and entry suit.

Future missions may require long-duration waste management for use by a pressurized suited crew member. In the event of cabin depressurization or other contingency, crew members may need to take refuge in their launch and entry suits for a long-duration (144-hour). The crew member will have less than 60 minutes to get into and seal their spacesuit.  To ensure the crew member’s safety, the Solution needs to take no more than 5 minutes of that time.  The crew member will remain in their suit at a pressure of 4.3 PSID and in 100% oxygen environment, with a few tasks to complete inside the depressurized vehicle prior to vehicle. A system to route and collect human waste away from the body without the use of hands, that operates in the prescribed environment, is being sought to keep astronauts alive and healthy over 144 hours.

Current commercial products that provide urine waste management utilize gravity to route and collect urine away from the body. Some require the use of hands, and most are not meant to be used for 144 hours. No commercial products have been found that provide fecal waste management for a 144-hour period with or without the use of hands.  While the implemented Solution can be discarded after each mission, it does have to function well for 6 days and multiple bowel and bladder evacuations.

ABOUT POOPING IN SPACE….

This challenge does not require you to be working in a field involving microgravity or to fully understand how the body and fluids work in a microgravity environment.  We are going to tell you a bit about what ‘s different.

First, microgravity is what you might call “Zero Gravity”.  Think vacuum.   In a vacuum, solids, liquids and gases do not act the way they do on earth, where they are influenced by earth’s gravity.  You probably have no problem imagining things floating around in space.  Yes, sometimes solids, liquids, and gases do this.  But they also might cling to the nearest surface due to surface tension.  Imagine taking a shower up in space and having a glob of water under your armpit.  Also, on earth, solids and liquids would likely mix together at least a little when in contact.  Maybe not in microgravity.

As for your bodily functions.  Well, in space there is no gravity to direct your urine away from your body when you release it.  Same for poop.  There is no gravity to pull it away when you release it.  Menstrual fluid?  At least some of it will exit a woman’s body.  You don’t want that traveling around your suit. And don’t forget, you can’t always count on poop being solid, especially if you are up in space and nervous about the fact that your vehicle cabin has depressurized.

You don’t want any of these solids and fluids stuck to your body for 6 days.  If you have ever taken care of a baby, you know how easy it is to get diaper rash.  Left untreated, that can turn into a dangerous infection.  You don’t want fecal matter getting into the urethra or the vagina, causing urinary tract or vaginal infections.  Of course, you don’t want them to migrate to mouth, nose, ears or cuts.  The point? Your Solution has to keep all of these materials away from the body, its orifices, and the spacesuit air inlet/outlet orifices.

How has NASA handled this in the past?  Well, for one thing, they weren’t handling it for 6 days.  Maybe a few hours.  In the recent past, astronauts have worn an extremely absorbent adult diaper.   Most of the time the diaper is there for emergencies. Prior to that, men wore Urine Collection and Transfer Assembly (UCTA) and Fecal Collection Systems (FCS).  Women have never had anything besides the adult diaper while wearing a suit.  When not wearing a suit, but within the vehicle, women had a choice of 3 versions of cup-type urine collection systems that used air flow to effectively cause urine to swirl away from a woman’s body.  No matter how you look at it, getting rid of wastes has been complicated, crude, uncomfortable, and messy, even with the use of hands.  And now we are saying that you don’t have use of your hands – at least not inside the suit next to your body.

ABOUT THE SPACE SUIT

You will design a solution that can be incorporated into the orange Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit (MACES).  MACES has been adapted for missions of longer duration than the original Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) was designed for. 

The whole suit, including the gloves, is pressurized to 4.3 PSID to enable the body to function properly.  Without pressure the body swells, loses most of its circulation, and of course, causes extreme pain.  The gloves are attached by metal bearings to the sleeves to ensure a proper seal.  Once the suit is sealed, it must remain sealed until the astronaut enters another pressurized environment.  While sealed, it is impossible for an astronaut to access their own body, even to scratch their nose.

Gas (100% oxygen) enters at 4.5 cubic feet per minute through a waist level connector to fill the 2” space between the astronaut’s body and the suit, and circulates out through another waist level connector to be cleaned and brought back to the suit.  A mesh cover protects against particles getting into the air connectors.  If they did get inside, they could easily block the flow of air.   

This gas supply is clearly a very precious commodity.  While a very small amount is lost to leakage, the Solution must not add to this leakage.  However, careful use of 1000 cubic centimeters per minute (0.01 cubic feet per minute) over a period of 3 minutes per use would not jeopardize the integrity of the suit.

The suit allows the astronauts to move around, get into tight spaces, and sit down and buckle up for long periods of time. Your Solution should be comfortable in all of these situations.

Finally, a small power sources of up to 28V with current below 100mA could be provided inside or outside of the suit.

To learn more about the functionality of space suits in general, see NASA’s What is a Space Suit and Wikipedia’s Space Suit. To read the detailed specifications of the MACES, click here.

 

PLANS FOR THE WINNING SOLUTIONS

NASA is ideally looking for Solutions that are comprised of technologies at a minimum Technical Readiness Level (TRL) of level 4, such that the Solution can be tested within 1 year and fully implemented within 3 years.  However, for breakthrough innovations, NASA will consider Solutions that are at a lower TRL and therefore a longer implementation timeline.

NASA will consider collaborating with winners and/or other competitors, subject to NASA rules and regulations for contract procurement.

 

Prizes

The challenge offers up to $30,000 USD in prizes to innovative solutions for long duration waste management in a microgravity environment.  NASA will award up to three prizes for the best ideas.

NASA will award the Solutions it judges to be the most promising for implementation and use on missions in the next three or four years.

 

How do I win?

To be eligible for an award, the solution must, at minimum:

  • Keep urine and/or fecal waste away from a crew member’s body for a minimum of 144 hours while in a space suit
  • Operate in a microgravity scenario
  • Operate within a full launch and entry suit at an internal pressure of 4.3 PSID and 100% oxygen environment which cannot be opened for manual access within the 144 hour time period
  • Operate while a crew member is moving, bending, and/or seated and strapped into a chair
  • Manage at least one of the three following human wastes for up to 6 days
    • Manage up to 1L per day of urine per crew member (based on planned liquid intake during mission)
    • Manage up to 75 grams of fecal mass and 75mL fecal volume per crew member (based on planned food intake during mission).  Fecal matter may range from liquid to solid, but the Solution is not required to handle uncontrollable, ongoing diarrhea.
    • Manage up to 80 mL of menstrual fluid over 6 days
  • Require less than five minutes for a crew member to, on their own, set up and secure the Solution to their body, prior to, or along with, getting into their launch and entry suit.
  • Operate effectively for both men and women of varying size and weight within the range of 1% to 99% on the Airforce ANSUR anthropometric database. Please refer to the Resource Page and this document for ranges in relevant measurements for your solution, which might include, but not be limited to: waist circumference (24.2 to 43.5”), Buttock circumference (33.1 to 45.2”), Hip breadth, sitting (31.5 to 46.5”), Waist back (15.4 to 22”) and Waist depth (5.9” to 11.8”).

 

The Solution may include a variety of approaches, including, but not limited to:

  • Using different management systems for urine versus fecal versus menstruation output and/or males versus females or by size or weight
  • Integrating all hardware into one garment that is easy to don
  • Keeping collected urine and fecal matter inside the suit or routing it outside the suit, allowing for customization for each crew member, etc.

 

The judging panel will rank the eligible Solutions submitted against the following criteria:

CriteriaDescriptionPercent Importance
Soundness and Technical Readiness of the design

Likelihood that the Solution will work as described to satisfy the minimum requirements with a minimum of risk.  This includes the technical readiness level (TLR) of the design.  

 

20
Gas ConservationEffectiveness at ensuring the conservation of gas in the crew member’s suit10
Health and SafetyLevel of health and safety the Solution will provide to the crew member including dryness and prevention of pain, infection and permanent injury15
Suit IntegrityEffectiveness ensuring the integrity of the crew member’s suit, including the number of entry/exit points required15
SpeedEase and feasibility of integrating the Solution with the body and the suit within 5 minutes.  10
Ease of Use/ ConstraintsEase of use given the constraints required for using (e.g., clean shaven, limitations on timing of waste elimination, requirement to be near a specific technology, etc.)10
ComfortLevel of physical, emotional, and psychological comfort the crew member will experience using the Solution, including while donning, moving around, and seated and strapped in10
Ease of IncorporationEase of incorporating into existing suits and vehicle,5
Other BenefitsOther benefits that the judges identify or the competitor points out that do not fall into the above categories.  Could also include judge preferences, such as for simplicity.5

 

Participation Eligibility:

The Prize is open to individuals, age 18 or older, private teams, public teams, and collegiate teams. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx). If you are a NASA employee, a Government contractor, or employed by a Government Contractor, your participation in this challenge may be restricted.

Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.

No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of microgravity or waste management is required. Prize organizers encourage outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions.

To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration.

 

Intellectual Property

Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant NASA a royalty free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, world-wide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration, for full details on intellectual property.

 

Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before 11:59pm EST on December 20th, 2016. All uploads must be in PDF format. No late submissions will be accepted.

 

Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above.

 

Judging Panel:

The determination of the winners will be made by HeroX based on evaluation by relevant NASA specialists.

 

Additional Information

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law.
Timeline
Updates 21

Challenge Updates

The Space Poop Challenge in One Infographic

Feb. 22, 2017, 12:39 p.m. PST by Maureen Murtha

Think you know all the stats on Space Poop? Test yourself against our (nearly) comprehensive infographic and, of course, share it with your friends! Let us know how you like it in the comments ;)
 

 

 


More on the NASA Space Poop Winning Designs by NPR

Feb. 16, 2017, 12:11 p.m. PST by Maureen Murtha

We know many of you in the Space Poop community are eager to hear more information about the winning designs. Fortunately, NPR did an excellent job going in-depth with the winners regarding their concepts. 

Here's the full-text of the article by Camila Domonoske, which is available in its original form on the site.

This article is reposted from NPR.com section “The Two-Way” by Camila Domonoske

 

Space Poop Problem-Solvers Take Home Cash Prizes From NASA

February 15, 2017 11:37 AM ET
CAMILA DOMONOSKE - follow her on Twitter

On Wednesday morning, NASA rewarded five members of the public — two doctors, a dentist, an engineer and a product designer — for their creative ideas for how to poop in a spacesuit.

Yes, it sounds a little bit funny. But unmet toilet needs could have life or death consequences for an astronaut in an emergency situation.

That’s why thousands of people spent tens of thousands of hours on the “Space Poop Challenge,” brainstorming, modeling, prototyping and number-crunching to come up with a crowd-sourced solution to the problem of human waste in a spacesuit.

Currently, astronauts on spacewalks rely on diapers, which is a feasible solution for only a few hours at a time. As we explained in November, NASA is imagining a situation where an astronaut is stuck in a spacesuit for days — like during an emergency on future Orion missions, which could take astronauts far from Earth.

The super-portable-bathroom solution has to work quickly, easily, in micro-gravity, without impeding movement, for both men and women, for solid and liquid waste. It can either store waste in the suit or expel it. And it has to be comfortable … for up to six continuous days.

Since the project launched on the HeroX crowdsourcing site in October, nearly 20,000 people, from all over the world, submitted more than 5,000 ideas. They were competing for a total of $30,000 in prizes.

The winning solution came from Thatcher Cardon, an Air Force officer, family practice physician and flight surgeon. He says his design was inspired by minimally invasive surgical techniques — and a strong desire not to store the poop.

“I never thought that keeping the waste in the suit would be any good,” he told NPR. “So I thought, ‘How can we get in and out of the suit easily?’ 
 

"[In] less invasive surgeries like laparoscopy or arthroscopy or even endovascular techniques they use in cardiology, they can do some amazing things in very small openings."

-Winner Thatcher Cardon
 

“I thought about what I know regarding less invasive surgeries like laparoscopy or arthroscopy or even endovascular techniques they use in cardiology — they can do some amazing things in very small openings.
“I mean, they can even replace heart valves now through catheters in an artery. So it should be able to handle a little bit of poop!”

He designed a small airlock at the crotch of the suit, with a variety of items — including inflatable bedpans and diapers — that could be passed through the small opening and then expanded. His design even allows an astronaut to change underwear while inside the spacesuit, through the same small opening. Cardon used an old flight suit to try some physical prototyping, and his kids helped gather supplies. They were “totally excited,” he says. “They lost their minds when I told them I won.”

Second place went to a trio from Houston — a physician, an engineering professor and a dentist (who also served as the team’s illustrator). All three had studied chemical engineering in college.

Stacey Louie, the environmental engineer on the team, said the different areas of expertise on the team were central to their solution. But before they fine-tuned their design, they had to discard a lot of ideas.

The SPUDs team — “Space Poop Unification of Doctors” — designed the Air-PUSH Urinary Girdle. They explain: “Air flows through the top of the device to direct urinary and/or menstrual waste in an anteroposterior direction, where it then exits via the larger tube at the bottom of the device.” - Katherine Kin/Courtesy of the SPUDs team

 

For instance, doctor and team leader Jose Gonzales says that he immediately thought of some medicine-inspired strategies that would be effective — but not at all comfortable.

“You have to take into consideration, ‘Is the astronaut going to be OK with this design?’ “ Katherine Kin, the dentist and artist, notes. “You have to have something that’s psychologically comfortable.”

So internal catheters were out. Instead, Gonzales says, they used an air-powered system to push waste away from the body to store it elsewhere in the suit. “More specifically, that air is created by passive and active normal body movements of the astronaut,” Gonzales says.

A product designer from the U.K., Hugo Shelley, placed third. He usually works with electronics and tech products, but he says for this contest, he went in the other direction — and tried to build a solution with as few electronic parts as possible.

“I think we’re all aware of the dangers of things going wrong in space,” he says. A simple design seemed safer, he says.
 


Hugo Shelley’s design is “built into a form-fitting garment that is worn underneath the pressure suit,” he says. “It features a new catheter design for extended use in microgravity, combined with a mechanism that compresses, seals and sanitizes solid waste.”

Dani Epstein/Courtesy of Hugo Shelley
 

“My mother’s a textile designer so I think I started off really thinking about materials,” he says. “Making something as comfortable as possible I thought was fairly important … a lot of your mechanism really has to be in, effectively, the first few millimeters away from the skin.”

His solution, the “SWIMSuit — Zero Gravity Underwear,” disinfects and stores waste inside the suit, like the second-place design does.

Cardon won $15,000, while the trio from Houston took home $10,000 and Shelley netted $5,000.

The next step is for NASA to start prototyping the ideas, and get working versions of a waste-management system up to the International Space Station for testing.

Dustin Gohmert, the Orion crew survival system project manager at NASA, explains that NASA will combine existing ideas with elements of the winning designs to create a solution that will, indeed, go into space.

“Optimistically this will never be used, because it is a contingency scenario that something catastrophic has happened,” he said. “But this will be on Orion and should something happen, and should it be called on to save the crew, this will be there and at their disposal.”

Shelley, the product designer, notes that research on how to improve waste management inside a spacesuit could also be useful in “earth-bound applications” — for people with incontinence or in high-pressure, critical job situations.
 

"It’s an amusing thing to think about, but still it’s a part of a spacesuit — and there’s something incredibly thrilling about the space missions."

 -Third-place finisher Hugo Shelley
 

And while it was “kind of odd” to think about poop in space for weeks at a time, he says the project was “quite exciting.”

“Yes, it’s an amusing thing to think about, but still it’s a part of a spacesuit — and there’s something incredibly thrilling about the space missions,” he says.

And, he notes, “you can’t fully appreciate being an interplanetary explorer if you’ve constantly got to use the bathroom and you can’t.”


The Results Are In: The Winners Announcement You’ve Been Waiting For

Feb. 15, 2017, 6:52 a.m. PST by Nidhi Chaudhary

We’re preaching to the choir here, but it bears repeating: the NASA Space Poop Challenge didn’t just break HeroX records, but also broke records for the entire field of open innovation competitions. That’s right, folks, with more entries per day than some of the most famous prizes out there, Space Poop is the new standard for how to get sh*t done.

Before we get into the actual winners, it’s only proper that we give credit where credit is due. All of you, the Space Poop community, made this feat possible. All wackiness aside, you’re now part of history. Human space flight just took a small step (but a big leap) into the future, and your efforts in the Space Poop Challenge played an integral role. Congratulations!

Now, without further ado, the top award recipients:

$15,000 Prize

$10,000 Prize

$5,000 Prize

  • Hugo Shelley
  • SWIMSuit - Zero Gravity Underwear for 6 Day Use

While we were only able to award three prizes, there were many outstanding entries and NASA would also like to acknowledge the following semi-finalists (in no particular order):

Looking for more opportunities to be part of the crowdsourcing movement? Yeah, we figured.


Here are few challenges currently open for submission that should spark your interest:

  

 

Stay tuned for more Space Poop related announcements soon!


While You're Waiting: Free NASA Posters

Feb. 6, 2017, 7:27 a.m. PST by Paul Musille

Hi Space Poop community!  

While you are waiting for the fast-approaching winner announcement, check out these free to download posters from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory! 


NASA Live Spacewalk and More

Jan. 6, 2017, 12:46 p.m. PST by Maureen Murtha

Check it out: NASA is live streaming a space walk right now - don't miss it:



Do you have a compelling story about your Space Poop Submission? You could win $1,000 just for sharing it with the Unleash Your Superhero Challenge! Additionally, if you're looking for another opportunity to make a lasting impact on the world, check out the Women's Safety XPRIZE and Echovation Challenge. Click below to learn more!

   

 


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