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Scott Parazynski and hydration device

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High-Altitude Hydration

An ultra-efficient, freeze-resistant hydration system designed for rugged, cold, and high-altitude conditions

NASA's Johnson Space Center is offering an innovative freeze-resistant hydration system for licensing. The technology substantially improves on existing hydration systems that cannot prevent water from freezing in the tubing, container, and mouthpiece in the harshest conditions on earth. This technology is designed to work to -40oC and 15-mile-per-hour winds over a 12-hour summit day, and likely well beyond.  The final phase of field testing occurred on Mt. Everest in May 2009.

The device was originally conceived and designed by an astronaut-mountaineer who recognized the great risk of dehydration in high mountains and the lack of sufficient technology to meet this important need.

Co-Inventor and former NASA Astronaut Scott Parazynski made it to the summit on May 20. Learn more about his field testing of this product on Mt. Everest on the following Web sites:

For more information, contact:

Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center
http://technology.jsc.nasa.gov (link opens new browser window)

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Benefits

  • Improved Safety: Dehydration is a life-threatening complication for high-altitude climbers. The device will provide 2-3 liters of liquid beverage (water, tea, or nutritional supplement) over the course of a full summit day.
  • Lightweight: The straw is insulated with aerogel or other highly efficient insulators, a feature that allows the heating system to work without extra thickness or weight.
  • Multiple approaches: The technology uses passive transfer of body heat in one option, an intermediate variant system in another, and a battery-powered microcontroller in a third.
  • Numerous applications: Although designed for climbers, it has applications for cold weather sports enthusiasts (skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, hunters) rescue crews, and military personnel.
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Applications

  • Mountain climbers
  • Downhill skiers
  • Cross-country skiers
  • Winter campers
  • Snowmobilers
  • Hunters
  • Law enforcement and rescue personnel
  • Defense environments, including SEAL, underwater, and deep sea use
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Technology Details

Battery pack and microcontroller

Fluid reservoir showing non-telescoping version of straw (without insulation)

Assembled hydration system showing non-telescoping version of straw (without insulation)


How it works

The High Altitude Hydration System works three different ways. The first, passive thermal control, uses aerogel insulation on the outside of the conformal fluid reservoir and around the drink straw. The bottle is mounted to an inner layer of clothing and the insulated straw is pulled from underneath the suit for a sip, then tucks back into the clothing. The second uses a braided copper wire attached to the drink straw and insulating aerogels to allow body-generated heat to keep the drink straw and conformal fluid reservoir from freezing. A third method uses a microcontroller and tape heater to keep the drink tube warm and free of ice crystals.


Why it is better

Even when a conformal fluid reservoir and drink straw are zipped into a down suit, water freezes under extreme conditions. This poses a health hazard, particularly to high-altitude climbers who mouth-breathe, as mouth-breathing causes substantial fluid loss (in exhaled breaths). Climbers of 8,000-meter peaks get only 1 liter or less of fluid on summit days because their drink bottles freeze so quickly.

Neoprene, an alternative, is much less effective because it performs poorly compared to aerogels and requires a thickness that would make the straw difficult to handle. Using body heat is very efficient in this configuration and is a welcome source of warmth at the beginning of a summit climb day.


Assembled hydration system showing insulated straw


Frequently Asked Questions

Technical Specifications

Field Testing

Human Factors

Market Opportunity


Technical Specifications

What are the variations of the system?

The High Altitude Hydration System (HAHS) has three variants:

  • Passive Thermal Control: Uses aerogels or other insulation along with the passive transfer of body heat.
  • Intermediate Thermal Control: Uses the same aerogel insulation and passive body heat transfer found in the first variant in combination with a braided copper wire attached to the drink straw to improve heat transfer.
  • Active Thermal Control: Uses a battery-powered microcontroller to actively heat the container and straw.

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Is there any difference in the packaging for the three variants?

No. All three variants have the same appearance, size, shape, and approximate weight.

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What are the weight and dimensions of the HAHS?

The HAHS fluid reservoir is approximately 10 inches x 10 inches. When filled, the thickness is approximately 1.5 inches.

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How much liquid does the fluid reservoir hold?

The field tested version holds up to three (3) liters. The design can be scaled up or down as needed.

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How long will the Active Thermal Control HAHS variant keep liquids from freezing? For example, will it keep liquids from freezing overnight?

The unit was designed to keep fluid from freezing during a 12-hour climb at -40 degrees Celsius and 15 mph winds. Detailed thermal analysis and knowledge of the mountaineering environment predicts that the Active Thermal Control variant will provide freeze protection for the life of the battery.

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What type of batteries (lithium or alkaline) are used for the microcontroller?

The unit was designed to use a lithium 1.2Ah 9-volt battery, which fits neatly into a pocket on the harness.

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How long is the battery life in cold environments?

In an extremely cold environment, the lithium 1.2Ah 9-volt battery life is approximately 10 hours.

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What other features exist to help keep liquid in the straw from freezing?

As all cold-weather athletes know, the straw always freezes first. In addition to the various heating methods, the HAHS has several features that alleviate this problem:

  • Telescoping straw: The HAHS design provides an option for a straw that can telescope in and out, keeping it warmer when not in use. A tab or ring can be used to easily extract the straw from its collapsed state.
  • Active draining: The HAHS configuration allows gravity to drain most fluid out of the straw and back into the reservoir.

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Is the straw prone to leaking or dripping?

No. The straw is essentially doubly redundant, using a purse valve plus a physical valve. These features, in addition to the active gravity draining feature, make leaking unlikely. There were no leaks detected during field testing.

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The straw looks a little short. Can it be made longer?

The photos on the Web site are of the non-telescoping version, which is ample length based on where this version is placed on the chest. It could easily be made longer, with the potential need to increase the battery capacity to warm greater straw surface area.

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Does the reservoir have one or more chambers?

The reservoir has a single chamber, with internal baffles to control its dimensions when filled with fluid.

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Is the fluid reservoir puncture resistant?

Yes, the fluid reservoir can be made of any number of puncture-resistant materials such as high-density polyethylene or propylene.

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If the reservoir is punctured, how easily can it be repaired or replaced?

The reservoir is similar to those found in other commercial hydration packs. Patch kits are commercially available for those packs. NASA believes a similar patch kit will work effectively with the HAHS, enabling in-situ repairs.

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Field Testing

What field testing has occurred?

An early design of the HAHS was field tested on Mount Everest in May 2008. The Passive and Intermediate variants of the current design were field tested on Everest in May 2009.

The HAHS was tested at Everest Camp 4, elevation 26,000 feet. It performed successfully during the coldest part of the day and was worn for approximately five (5) hours straight.

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What components and materials were used in the field-tested HAHS unit?

The units taken to Everest used aerogels for insulation, a Heaterstat microcontroller from Minco, and a Thermofoil heater also from Minco.

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Human Factors

Is the HAHS comfortable to wear and handle?

The HAHS was originally designed to be worn on the front of the body so that it does not interfere with a typical backpack worn during climbing. The inventor found the HAHS extremely comfortable to wear during both his Everest 2008 and 2009 ascents. In fact, the weight of the fluid reservoir on the user’s chest provides a nice counterbalance to the weight of a backpack.

The use of aerogels for insulation (as opposed to neoprene) makes the straw easy to handle and stow, even when the user is encumbered by bulky mittens.

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How does the HAHS improve human performance?

Because liquid freezes so quickly at high altitudes, climbers typically are able to drink about a ½ liter of water or tea in the morning before the liquids freeze. As a result, climbers typically drink no additional fluids for the remainder of an 18-20 hour summit day. At best, this presents substantial performance problems and makes the climber uncomfortable. At worst, this dehydration poses life-threatening health risks.

The HAHS enables climbers, as well as cold-weather athletes and workers, to stay well-hydrated throughout the day, improving both safety and performance. It also enables the wearer to keep a lukewarm drink with them, which can be very satisfying in a cold environment.

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Market Opportunity

Do you have any information on the size of the market opportunity?

Prospective licensees are encouraged to do their own market research, however Fuentek can provide the following market information from the sources listed:

  • Overall snow sports market: $2.6 billion for 2008-2009 (Source: 2009 Snow Sports Market Intelligence Report from SnowSports Industries America)
  • Snow sports accessories market: $951 million for 2008-2009 (Source: 2009 Snow Sports Market Intelligence Report from SnowSports Industries America)
  • Number of snowmobilers in North America: 3 million for 2008 (Source:  November 17, 2008 press release from  International Snowmobilers Manufacturing Association)

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Patents

Johnson Space Center is seeking patent protection for this technology.

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Commercial Opportunity

This technology is part of the Innovation Partnerships Office (IPO) at NASA's Johnson Space Center. The IPO seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to consider licensing the High Altitude Hydration System technology (MSC-24490-1) for commercial applications.

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For More Information

For more information, contact:

Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center
http://technology.jsc.nasa.gov (link opens new browser window)

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This technology is owned by NASA's Johnson Space Center
MSC-24490 (JS-0006)