Since the dawn of the Space Age, the world has benefited from the transfer of NASA ingenuity into the marketplace. Spinoffs are the product of NASA technology development, partnerships, research, patent licenses, waivers and facility use.
Spacecraft Power > Solar Cell Technology
From the International Space Station to planetary probes, solar cell technologies provide a critical power source for a variety of space exploration missions. NASA and its partners in industry are continually investigating ways to advance solar cells and transfer resulting space-bound innovation to Earth applications. Researchers are working to improve efficiency, lower weight and reduce both manufacturing and operating costs.
NASA and Special Materials Research and Technology Inc. (SPECMAT) teamed up through a Space Act Agreement to develop a new fabrication process—Room Temperature Wet Chemical Growth (RTWCG). Requiring no heat or toxins, the patented system produces an antireflective silicone oxide layer that cleanses cell surface contacts. This in turn enabled the production of low-cost, high-performance solar cells. RTWCG is a licensed process and currently used in solar cell production, microelectronics and other light applications.
Spacecraft Design > Air Purification
How do you keep the International Space Station clean? NASA scientists on the hunt for technology to protect spacecraft from harmful substances and purify water explored a process known as photocatalysis. Opposite of photosynthesis, photocatalysis uses light energy to trigger the chemical breakdown of destructive, contaminating materials. Through a Dual Use Technology partnership, NASA and PURETi developed a self-cleaning surface coating that purifies air, eliminates pollution, odor and microbes.
PURETi’s nontoxic, titanium oxide-based application has been recognized for both its health and maintenance benefits. The coating transforms diverse structural materials into self-cleaning air purifiers and has been recognized as Popular Science’s Green Tech Innovative Product of the Year. Outdoors, it reduces required maintenance of buildings by more than 50%, while indoors, the photocatalytic coating creates hospital-grade air quality. PUREti’s versatile spray-on coating is being considered for use in barns, schools, factories and hotels—really any surface with light exposure.
Microgravity Combustion Research > Fuel Efficiency
The interior workspace of the International Space Station provides a state-of-the-art microgravity research environment. Investigators leverage this unique platform to expose processes and characteristics that may be masked by Earth’s gravity. One research area is combustion—how things burn. From cars cruising down the highway to rockets launching into space, scientists are hoping to advance our understanding of fuel systems to raise efficiency, lower costs and mitigate our environmental impact.
The Fluids and Combustion Facility (FCF) housed in the Destiny laboratory allows investigators to explore the science of power and propulsion with insight only the complexities of an orbital lab can provide. In addition to advancing engine designs, data collected from space station research may demonstrate new methods to recycle greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.