- Created on Saturday, 02 February 2002 12:37
- Written by Susan Whitaker
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – In addition to exploration and discoveries in outer space, it was at John F. Kennedy Space Center's Parachute Refurbishment Facility (PRF) that ozone was first discovered as a revolutionary laundering agent. AJT Associates of Cape Canaveral, Florida, recognized the sanitizing abilities of the powerful oxidant while working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on research for wastewater recycling at the facility in 1994.
"We learned what concentrations were necessary for wastewater treatment then applied this to laundering applications," said John Derrick, VP of environmental services at Agrimond LLC, the marketing and sales arm of AJT Associates.
The PRF, located in the Kennedy Space Center industrial area, is not your typical laundry. The 80 to 100 foot long parachutes that are cleaned, dried and repaired there are responsible for straightening and slowing the fall of the 192,000-lb solid rocket boosters (SRBs) from about 360 mph to 50 mph after each launch. All the laundry equipment at the PRF, from the 30,000 gallon washer to the huge dryer heated with 140 degree air at 13,000 cubic feet per minute to the 250,000 gallon wastewater treatment system, is custom designed by NASA engineers and contractors.
Cleaning begins when launch parachutes are transported on reels by boat from the splashdown site and rinsed of salt water and contaminants over a 2-3 day period. The chutes are then spread across a large covered concrete surface, inspected and scrubbed with proprietary detergents. Once washed, they are folded and suspended from hangers connected to a portable frame. The frame is then rolled into the rinse chamber (8 feet by 50 feet by 8 feet deep) which has an open top and locking door. The fabric and rings are pressure spray-rinsed for a couple of hours while the rinse water is collected and treated for re-use.
Following rinsing, the frame is rolled into the huge dryer where the chutes sit beneath large air blowers. After that it's off to the refurbishment shop where each main canopy undergoes hundreds of repairs to damage caused by friction, sea conditions and hot debris. The newly refurbished parachutes are then re-coated with silicone lubricants, repacked into the nose-cone section and re-connected atop another SRB..
Before 1994, under local EPA regulations, the PRF's rinse water was discharged into a drainage ditch, which emptied into the wetlands of the surrounding Merritt Island National Wildlife refugee. New environmental laws at the time would label this discharge, industrial waste
"NASA had two options; they could either lay enough discharge pipe to the sewer or look at alternative treatments," said Derrick. They chose the latter option and with the help of an AJT study determined that a closed-loop water reuse system would not only be more cost effective than continued treatment and discharge, but more environmentally responsible.
Today the rinse water, containing special detergents, oils, fuels, salts, and silicone lubricants is collected and treated for reuse. And ozone is one of several steps used to treat the wastewater because ozone leaves no residual chemicals and breaks down organic compounds so they are more easily removed.
The research and design that went into the AJT wastewater reuse system eventually led to the creation of Agrimond's Tech2Ozone laundry system.
“At the time of designing the treatment system for the PRF, there existed several companies which manufactured ozone generators, but none that actually provided the means to dissolve the ozone gas into an aqueous solution where the cleaning must occur,” explained Derrick.
NASA doesn't use the Tech2Ozone system to wash its' parachutes because under government contracting law, a firm who renders a design cannot themselves provide the equipment
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