News ID: 233207
Published: 0933 GMT October 23, 2018

NASA testing Kiwi wool product for its deep space Orion missions

NASA testing Kiwi wool product for its deep space Orion missions

In 2023, NASA's deep space exploration craft Orion will blast off with four astronauts on board, and hopefully, some New Zealand woolen technology.

Orion is built to "take humans further than they've ever gone before", according to NASA, reported.

It is planned to head first to the Moon, and then eventually to Mars. But to take people into outer space, there's a lot involved, including life support systems for astronauts.

That is where Lanaco, an Auckland-based wool company with purpose-bred sheep from Otago, comes in.

The Helix filter could be used as a pre-filter layer for emergency personal equipment and cabin air systems, preventing clogging in other filter layers by removing thick contaminants like molten plastic.

NASA got wind of Lanaco after sending out a technology scout to scour the world for suitable products to use on Orion.

Shaun Tan, the head of technology of Lanaco, said, "In the case of the Orion life-support system, the Helix filter is being tested for particle loading capacity, breathability, flame resistance and the ability to function even if exposed to Orion's water-based fire extinguisher systems."

The filter is currently used in protective equipment in industries like construction and mining.

"Firefighting in space represents a new challenge for our R&D team," Tan said.​

Lanaco’s chief executive, Nick Davenport, said wool's electrostatic properties caught small harmful particles, while its protein structure captured gases and harmful toxins — and it is bacteria and flame resistant.

The wool Lanaco used comes from a specially-bred sheep, the Astino.

The recognition from NASA was a big deal, he said.

"Nasa is the oldest and largest research and development company in the world. It's just done its 60th birthday. Man has not been into space, deep space, since 1972. And this is the first program to take men to the Moon and Mars and beyond. And to have their critical life support systems depending on this technology is about the best endorsement we could have."

Tan said NASA was still in the trial phase.

"It will really depend on how the product is put together. So we are still, I would say, in the early to mid-stages of product development and they still have a few months to go before they decide to put it onto the spacecraft. So it will really depend on what happens in the coming months."

He reckoned Lanaco ‘absolutely’ has a good shot at being used.

"NASA could have easily gone to 101 bigger manufacturers than us but they came to us, so we must have an offering that they find interesting at the least."

Tan expected they would know if NASA would use their product within the next six to nine months.

Davenport said if Lanaco got the contract, it would be "the biggest small contract that we'll ever have".

While the actual volume used by NASA would be low, the endorsement by the agency would "provide a level of comfort to all existing customers of our product", he said.

"That's really the big spinoff for us."

While they were excited about NASA using their product, Tan and Davenport hoped it did not actually have to be used.

It was "like a life jacket under your aircraft seat", Davenport said.

“You did not want to have to use it, but if you did, you'd want it to be of good quality.”



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