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NASA Paint Sprays Away New Car Smell

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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Love it or hate it, that “new car smell” is not healthy—or, it turns out, good for sensitive satellite instruments—driving NASA to find a way to spray it away.

For some people, NASA notes, “the best part about buying a new car is its factory-fresh new car smell, a distinctive aroma created when the chemicals and residual solvents used to manufacture dashboards, car seats, carpeting and other vehicle appointments outgas and fill the cabin.”

Many researchers, however, consider this “outgassing” so unhealthy that they recommend that drivers keep their new cars ventilated while driving.

NASA engineers have also found that outgassed solvents, epoxies, lubricants, and other materials can adhere to contamination-sensitive telescope mirrors, thermal-control units, high-voltage electronic boxes, cryogenic instruments, detectors and solar arrays, potentially shortening their lives.

Spray Solution

Thus, a group of agency technologists has created a low-cost, easy-to-apply solution that they say is more effective than current techniques.

Nithin Abraham - NASA outgassing paint
NASA / Pat Izzo

NASA Goddard technologist Nithin Abraham studies a paint sample in her lab. Her team has developed a low-cost coating that protects sensitive spacecraft components from outgassed contaminants.

Their answer: a patent-pending sprayable paint that adsorbs 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 adsorber is highly permeable and porous—attributes that trap the outgassed contaminants, according to NASA.

Because the paint does not contain volatile organics, the material itself doesn’t cause additional outgassing.

“It looks promising,” said principal investigator Sharon Straka, an engineer who is leading the research at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. “It collects significantly more contaminants than other approaches.”

Shedding ‘Big, Heavy and Chunky’

Instrument developers now use zeolite-coated cordierite devices that look like hockey pucks to control outgassing. Each “puck” has only limited adsorbing capabilities, however, requiring instrument designers to install multiple units with complex mounting hardware.

“These devices are big, heavy and chunky, and take up a lot of real estate,” explained co-principal investigator Mark Hasegawa, of NASA Goddard.

The new paint, however, overcomes these limitations by providing a low-mass alternative. Technicians can spray the paint directly onto surfaces, with no need for mounting equipment.

Technicians can even coat adhesive strips or tape and place them in strategic locations within an instrument, spacecraft cavity, or vacuum system, further simplifying adsorber design.

NASA outgassing spray paint
NASA

This is a close-up view of the highly porous, sprayable coating that Goddard technologists created to attract and then trap outgassed contaminants that harm spacecraft components.

“This is an easy technology to insert at a relatively low risk and cost,” Hasegawa said. “The benefits are significant.”

(Other coating researchers are developing materials to fight contaminants in cars that are no longer new.)


Defense and Space Applications

The material has already caught the eye of Northrop Grumman; the European Space Agency; the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Spica Technologies of Hollis, NH, according to NASA.

NASA’s ICESat2 ATLAS project is also evaluating its use, pending the outcome of additional tests, she said. The Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), an Earth observing system, is due to launch in January 2016.

Ready to Launch

Straka’s team plans to tweak its recipe to enhance the paint’s performance and experiment with different pigments, mainly black, to create a coating to absorb stray light that can overcome the light scientists actually want to gather.

Straka also believes the technology could be used on the International Space Station or future space habitats to trap pollutants and odors in crew quarters.

“We’re ready for prime time,” she said. “The coating is undergoing qualification tests and is ready for infusion into flight projects or ground vacuum systems.”

   

Tagged categories: Coating chemistry; Emissions; Epoxy; Health and safety; NASA; Protective coatings; Research; Solvents; VOC emissions

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (11/27/2012, 7:03 PM)

Knowing for years how dangerous the release of all these artificial components in car interiors are, I always "air-out" the vehicle by leaving windows open in warm weather. The sun literally cooks the materials inside. I don't care how dusty it gets. Dirt can be (HEPA) vacuumed up. With the high incidence of asthma in children, they shouldn't be subjected to this. Also, flame retardant chemicals can be harmful to child-bearing women.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (11/29/2012, 11:01 AM)

Fred, it's not just cars...you'd be surprised what's in a modern house (especially a new modern house!). Maybe that can make a version for interior paint too.


Comment from Mark Schilling, (11/30/2012, 9:21 AM)

"New car smell" is primarily due to dioctyl phthalate, an ester plsticizer used in vinyl plastics. It is not a flame retardant (per Fred's comments). It is unbound to the polymer and it can be "cooked out." The trouble is, when that happens the item may begin to shrink and crack. And M. Halliwell has it right - this common plasticizer is not just in cars. It's in lots of items, including vinyl shower curtains. And phthalate esters have been used in paints. The thing to remember is - if you can smell it, it isn't all in the thing, something is in your nose. (And maybe it's not good for you.)


Comment from Linda O'Neill, (6/27/2013, 9:26 AM)

I have a problem with off gassing how do you detect what substance is actually causing the off gassing. The apartment is 2 years old now and something is still off gassing. Can anyone help?


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