That New Car Smell Is More Dangerous Than You Know
November 20, 2012

That New Car Smell Is More Dangerous Than You Know

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Many of us enjoy that ℠new car smell´ and the connotations it imparts, despite the fact that it´s created by outgassing–an unhealthy process for both humans and sensitive instruments.

Many sensitive instruments that are susceptible to outgassing can be found onboard NASA satellites and a team of NASA engineers has developed a way to mitigate the damage that it causes, according to a statement from the agency.

Creation of the new car smell occurs when volatile organic solvents used to create parts of a car´s interior, like dashboards, seats, and carpeting, are slowly released and proceed to fill up the cabin. The fumes can be considered harmful to the point that some car makers recommend drivers keep their new cars ventilated while driving.

To combat the outagassing phenomenon on their spacecraft, a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. has created a sprayable material that adsorbs the gaseous solvent molecules and prevents them from sticking to instrument components that could be negatively affected.

Using zeolite, a mineral used for water purification, and colloidal silica to bind the coating together, the new molecule adsorbing spray is highly permeable and porous. The spray was also made without volatile organics, preventing it from causing additional outgassing.

“It looks promising,” said Sharon Straka, the lead project researcher at Goddard. “It collects significantly more contaminants than other approaches.”

The current system uses zeolite-coated disks to absorb outgassing. These require cumbersome mounting units that add weight and take up space, two things spacecraft have in short supply.

“These devices are big, heavy and chunky, and take up a lot of real estate,” explained Straka´s colleague Mark Hasegawa, of NASA Goddard.

The new spray-on system provides a low-mass alternative that can be applied in a variety of ways. Technicians can spray the paint directly onto a surface or coat adhesive tape, which can be placed in strategic locations within a sensitive instrument or onboard a spacecraft.

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

Since NASA has announced its development, Northrop Grumman, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Spica Technologies of Hollis, N.H., have expressed a desire to use the new material, Straka said.

In addition to interest from outside groups, several organizations within NASA are evaluating its use, pending the outcome of additional tests, according to the scientists. The team said they plan to refine the new spray´s formula in an effort to enhance its performance and also to experiment with different colors to create a coating to absorb stray light that can disrupt other instrument processes.

Straka also said that the new spray could be used on the International Space Station or future space habitats to lock in pollutants and odors inside crew quarters. “We´re ready for primetime,” Straka said. “The coating is undergoing qualification tests and is ready for infusion into flight projects or ground vacuum systems.”