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New Monitoring System Will Better Protect NASA Astronauts on ISS

CAMBRIDGE, MA (PRWEB) June 17, 2013

NASA deployed an improved Air Quality Monitoring (AQM) system in March that helps better monitor potentially harmful chemicals in the air on the International Space Station. The microAnalyzer V2.0, which was developed by Draper Laboratory, is currently being used on the International Space Station.

Astronauts breathe air that is processed and re-circulated within the spacecraft or station. Constant exposure to harmful compounds in the air, even in trace amounts, endangers their health. Harmful compounds can come from the out-gassing of onboard components, leaks from equipment or experiments, or from mishaps or off-nominal conditions such as fires.

The microAnalyzer V2.0 combines complementary technologies including sample concentration, gas chromatography, and Draper’s Differential Mobility Spectrometer (DMS). DMS acts as a tunable filter allowing only the compounds of interest to be detected while “filtering out” the irrelevant information, or interferents. The microAnalyzer V2.0 is capable of detecting ultra-trace concentrations of compounds at parts per trillion levels. “This sensitivity coupled with the compound filtering capability of the sensor is critical for NASA’s needs on ISS,” according to John West, a program manager in Draper’s Space Systems group.

The new version of the microanalyzer improves upon the previous version by increasing performance in sensitivity and selectivity; making filter packs field replaceable, which reduces the logistics burden of sending complete units back and forth from the ISS; and adding a sample purge mode. The new model also integrates an embedded computer, wireless networking, and touch screen interface, eliminating the need to connect to external laptop computers aboard the ISS. The embedded computer enables the system to shift some functions from the ISS crew to personnel on Earth, and enables the system to give constant status updates to the crew, rather than periodic readings when astronauts hook up an external computer, as was the case with previous versions.

Draper, which has been a major contributor to manned space programs with NASA beginning with the Apollo missions, built 23 new microAnalyzers for NASA under contract with Wyle Laboratories Inc.

In addition to air quality monitoring in space, Draper’s microAnalyzer systems are used for threat detection (chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals and materials, explosives, IED’s), industrial processing, industrial health and safety, and breath analysis to detect markers on breath indicating ailments and disease such as cancer and tuberculosis.

Draper Laboratory

Draper Laboratory, which celebrates 80 years of service to the nation in 2013, is a not-for-profit, engineering research and development organization dedicated to solving critical national problems in national security, space systems, biomedical systems, and energy. Core capabilities include guidance, navigation and control; miniature low power systems; highly reliable complex systems; information and decision systems; autonomous systems; biomedical and chemical systems; and secure networks and communications.

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