It turns out that the appealing new car smell that comes with new toys isn't very healthy. The smell is called outgas, and comes from the chemicals and residual solvents used to manufacture dashboards, car seats, and carpeting. In addition to being harmful to humans, outgas also harms contamination-sensitive spacecraft parts such as telescope mirrors and solar arrays. To combat outgas from solvents, epoxies, and lubricants, NASA engineers have created a new technique to prevent the gasses from adhereing to spacecraft surfaces.
According to NASA, the low-cost, easy-to-apply solution is a sprayable paint that is more effective than current outgas protection techniques. A team led by Principal Investigator Sharon Straka at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center developed the paint, which absorbs gaseous molecules and stops them from harming instrument components. The paint is made of zeolite, which is used for water purification, and a colloidal silica binder that holds the coating together. Also, the paint itself doesn't contain volatile organics, meaning it doesn't cause outgassing itself.
“We’re ready for primetime,” said Straka. “The coating is undergoing qualification tests and is ready for infusion into flight projects or ground vacuum systems.”
Prior to the new paint, NASA engineers would use zeolite-coated cordierite devices shaped like hockey pucks to absorb outgas. The necessary number of these devices required designers to install complex mounting hardware onto spacecraft. Now, though, the low-mass paint will be able to be placed directly onto surfaces or on adhesive strips that can be placed in strategic locations.
“This is an easy technology to insert at a relatively low risk and cost,” said Mark Hasegawa, co-principal investigator on the project. “The benefits are significant.”
(Image courtesy NASA/Pat Izzo)