NASA working on getting rid of the "new satellite" smell
By David Szondy
November 20, 2012
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland is working to eliminate new car smell. No, they aren't a bunch of killjoys. That distinctive odor is caused by outgassing of chemicals used in car manufacturing. Some scientists believe these gases to be harmful, but whether they are or not, satellites suffer from the same problem. The gases released by satellites themselves can damage them, so NASA is working on new ways to control or eliminate these emissions.
Satellites are complex mechanisms that use a wide variety of chemicals in their manufacture, such as solvents, epoxies and lubricants. These often give off gases, which can play havoc with sensitive equipment like telescope mirrors and electronics, so these outgassings need to be minimized.
This is usually solved with devices made of the mineral cordierite coated with zeolite, which is a highly adsorbent microporous aluminosilicate. In other words, the gases given off by the satellite stick to the surface of the device before they can do any damage – if the gases were absorbed by the device, they would more thoroughly permeate it. The only problem is that these devices are the size and shape of hockey pucks, so a number of them have to be installed in the satellite. This takes up a lot of valuable space and payload weight, so NASA would like an alternative.
That alternative is being developed by a team led by Sharon Straka. They have created a spray paint consisting of porous zeolite and a colloidal silica binder that does the same job as the adsorbent devices. The new paint has a number of advantages over the conventional devices. It can be sprayed directly on the satellite (including hard-to-reach spots), it can be put on strips or tape in strategic locations, and it is much cheaper. Also, unlike some paints, it doesn't contain organic volatiles that can cause their own outgassing problems.
Several entities, such as Northrop Grumman and the European Space Agency (ESA), have expressed interest in the paint. Meanwhile, NASA continues to evaluate its effectiveness. According to Straka, the team is continuing development on the paint by experimenting with different pigments for applications such as coating telescope interiors, and she hopes that it will also be used aboard the International Space Station to reduce pollutants and odors in the habitat areas.