NASA's new sprayable paint protects spacecraft from 'harmful' new car smell

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 20, 2012 11:40 hrs

A team of NASA engineers has created a highly porous, sprayable coating that that attracts and then traps outgassed contaminants that harm spacecraft components.

Outgassing - the physical process that creates that oh-so-alluring new car smell - isn't healthy for humans and, as it turns out, not particularly wholesome for sensitive satellite instruments, either.

Outgassed solvents, epoxies, lubricants, and other materials aren't especially wholesome for contamination-sensitive telescope mirrors, thermal-control units, high-voltage electronic boxes, cryogenic instruments, detectors and solar arrays, either.

As a result, NASA engineers are always looking for new techniques to prevent these gases from adhering to instrument and spacecraft surfaces and potentially shortening their lives.

A group of technologists has created a low-cost, easy-to-apply solution, which is more effective than current techniques.

Led by Principal Investigator Sharon Straka, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the team has created a new, patent-pending sprayable paint that absorbs these gaseous molecules and stops them from affixing to instrument components.

Made of zeolite, a mineral widely used in industry for water purification and other uses, and a colloidal silica binder that acts as the glue holding the coating together, the new molecular absorber is highly permeable and porous - attributes that trap the outgassed contaminants. Because it doesn't contain volatile organics, the material itself doesn't cause additional outgassing.

"It looks promising," Straka said. "It collects significantly more contaminants than other approaches."

Technicians can spray the paint directly onto surfaces, no extra mounting equipment is necessary.

In addition, technicians can coat adhesive strips or tape and then place these pieces in strategic locations within an instrument, spacecraft cavity, or vacuum system, further simplifying absorber design.

Since its development, Northrop Grumman, Redondo Beach, Calif.; the European Space Agency; the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Spica Technologies of Hollis, N.H., have expressed interest in using the material, Straka said.

In addition, NASA's ICESat2 ATLAS project is evaluating its use, pending the outcome of additional tests, she said. (ANI)

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