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QinetiQ North America and NASA Advance Space Travel with First Forward Osmosis Experiments in Microgravity

MCLEAN, Va., Sept. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- QinetiQ North America announced today the results of another successful experiment completed on board the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) in July 2011. The experiment, the first of its kind in microgravity, tested the novel application in space of a technology modeled on a biological process used by cells on Earth to recover water from their environment. Already engineered for use in applications ranging from desalination plants to treating non-potable water for backpackers, forward osmosis is the natural diffusion of water through a semi-permeable membrane. The membrane permits small polar molecules like water to pass through while blocking most other molecules like salts, sugars, starches, or proteins, and stopping all microorganisms like protozoan parasites, bacteria, and viruses. On earth, the process converts undrinkable water to a potable fluid in a few hours; how the process would work in reduced gravity was unknown prior to this experiment.

In testing on the shuttle, the experiment demonstrated the process to be nearly as effective in microgravity as in normal gravity. For the microgravity experiment, scientists from QinetiQ North America and NASA worked with the creators of the X-Pack™, a commercially available product, to develop the Forward Osmosis Bag (FOB), a passive, personal, portable water purification device. The experiment used a combination of indicator dyes and calculated the effect of mechanical mixing -- i.e., shaking three of the experiment's six FOBs for a few minutes -- on the rate of water passage across the membrane. Additional ground control experiments for the forward osmosis study will be conducted later this month at the Kennedy Space Center.

"If we discover that manual manipulation helps, then we hope a long-term application would result in a spacesuit which would induce the mechanical mixing as astronauts move around during spacewalks," said QinetiQ North America project engineer Monica Soler.

Soler added that, unlike reverse osmosis, which requires a significant amount of energy, forward osmosis provides an energy-efficient process that does not increase payload weight or energy needs of the spacecraft. QinetiQ North America developed and administered the forward osmosis experiment, as well as other scientific experiments, on board the final flight of Atlantis, as a part of its Engineering Services Contract (ESC) with NASA.

In the future, the Forward Osmosis Bag may be used for water recovery aboard the International Space Station or in contingency, return-to-earth scenarios where the crew requires emergency potable water. The process could also extend the reach of manned space travel and enable longer space walks by giving astronauts the ability to produce drinkable fluids in space.

About QinetiQ North America

QinetiQ North America (QNA) is a subsidiary of QinetiQ Group plc, the FTSE250 company listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE: QQ.L).  Operating in North America, QNA delivers world-class technology, responsive services, and innovative solutions for global markets, focusing on US government and commercial customers.  Its engineers, scientists and other professionals deliver high quality products and services that leverage detailed mission knowledge and proven, reliable tools and methodologies to meet the rapidly changing demands of national defense, homeland security and information assurance customers. QNA is headquartered in McLean, Virginia. For more information visit

Michael Rudd, Boscobel (for QinetiQ North America, Inc.)

SOURCE QinetiQ North America
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