NASA has revealed some of the real word products and services being developed thanks to the innovate technologies it has pioneered.
The Spinoff 2022 list includes an air purifier that could grow plants in space, underwear for race car drivers, and new biometric technologies.
It includes details on 45 companies that have made use of NASA technology to advance manufacturing, detoxify polluted soil and improve weather forecasts.
Thousands of patents are held by the US space agency, available for license by a range of companies working in industries from robotics to aerospace.
These ideas, products and concepts are born out of NASA’s mission of exploration, which requires new technologies, software, and research in order to succeed.
The interior of the Biomass Production Chamber at Kennedy Space Center replicated the closed growing environment astronauts will use in space or on other planets
‘The value of NASA is not confined to the cosmos but realized throughout our country,’ said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, at the launch of Spinoff 2022.
He said it comes in the form of ‘hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs to world-leading climate science, understanding the universe and our place within it, to technology transfers that make life easier for folks around the world.’
‘As we combat the coronavirus pandemic and promote environmental justice and sustainability, NASA technology is essential to address humanity’s greatest challenges,’ Nelson added.
MailOnline has pulled together a few of the products and services being created from NASA innovation, including…
Fire-resistant underwear for race car drivers
Among the new products launched using NASA patents, is a race car driver suit that was developed from phase-change materials used to keep astronauts safe in space, and which acts as a fire retardant should they suffer an accident.
Technology developed for space has turned up in cars for years, range from space shuttle tire engineering appearing in road tires, to zero-gravity body posture studies helping in the development of more comfortable car seats.
While astronaut Drew Feustel isn’t wearing a spacesuit behind the wheel of this NASCAR racing vehicle, developments in spacesuit technology have seen adoption in auto racing
Spacesuit gloves (above, with astronaut Anne McClain) have to be dexterous enough to use tools and insulating enough to protect against the temperature extremes of working in space. Working with industry, NASA explored the use of phase-change materials for these purposes
One of the products to make the leap from use in space, to use on Earth, is a phase-shift material developed for use in spacesuit gloves.
These materials absorb and release heat through a basic characteristics of matter – as the surrounding temperatures rise, the heat the material absorbs melts it from solid to liquid, also working in the other direction, releasing heat as it solidifies again.
‘No matter what phase it’s in, in either hot or cold environments, the temperature stays around the melting point. This ensures that the material, much like Goldilocks’ porridge, always feels just right,’ NASA engineers wrote.
Due to extreme temperatures in the cockpit, drivers in almost every major racing championship wear Walero for its cooling properties. Cristiana Oprea (pictured) wears it while driving for the European Rally Championship
The material was licensed to Outlast Technologies, that created a synthetic-fiber that is used in bedding, infant swaddling, sportswear and outdoor gear.
Outlast sold its technology to UK-based Walero, founded by amateur racer Fiona James, with the goal of creating safe, absorbent and heat resistant underwear.
James had Outlast material incorporated into fire-retardant fabric, that has seen been approved for us in multiple world racing championships and meets safety standards laid out by the US-based SFI Foundation.
The products are now used by drivers in the IndyCar and European Rally Championship, as well as by NASCAR drivers.
Growing potatoes without soil in conditions that could be reproduced in space
Outside of actual physical materials, NASA develops techniques and technologies that can be used to improve existing systems and processes – including farming.
The UN predicts that by 2050 there will be another 2.3 billion people on Earth that need to be fed, most concentrated in urban areas, away from farmland.
One way Plenty Unlimited maintains plant health is by using robotics in nearly every step of the farming process. This is a vertical farm based on NASA technology
NASA says that current agriculture may not have the capacity to feed that many people, and while farmers are looking to make fields more efficient, vertical farms may present a major part of the long-term solution.
The space agency has been working for decades to tackle similar problems for space exploration, finding ways to feed people with no access to Earth.
This needs to be done while reusing a limited water supply, minimizing energy consumption, and not needing soil in order to grow produce.
Using some of these NASA techniques, and building on experiments by the space agency to improve plant yields without the use of soil, CSS Farms grew potatoes.
Plants grown by Bowery Farming using nutrient film technique, a vertical hydroponic system pioneered by NASA, develop a dense root mat that absorbs water, nutrients, and oxygen without using soil
One NASA experiment saw potatoes grown in a nutrient bath produce the equivalent of 175,000 lbs per acre of potatoes, compared to the world record of 89,000 lb per acre set for field-grown potatoes.
CSS Farms use the same hydroponic nutrient film practice in its greenhouses, to grow seed potatoes sent out to customers, who then plant them in fields.
They used many of the same techniques as closed-loop vertical farms first developed by NASA, including using carefully monitored nutrient baths, to produce significantly improved yields, over growing them in fields and soil.
Purifying the air
On the topic of agriculture, a system created for growing plants on the International Space Station now helps improve indoor air quality, and reduces the spread of airborne viruses like coronavirus, according to NASA.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as it became clear that COVID-19 was transmitted through the air, several companies realized their NASA-derived air-quality technologies could help combat its spread.
Airgloss’ air quality sensors work in conjunction with a thermostat to regulate ventilation and manage indoor air, sending alerts and reports. During the pandemic, the company learned how the sensors could calculate a space’s risk of COVID-19 spread
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson checks out soybean plants growing in the Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC) plant growth chamber on the space station in 2002. The photocatalytic air scrubber that regulated ethylene levels in ADVASC and its predecessor turned out to eliminate many other contaminants and eventually led to several lines of commercial air purifiers
They soon found themselves overwhelmed by demand from schools to hospitals, shopping centers, office buildings, airports, and even buses.
One of these was ActivePure Technology, that sold six months’ worth of its inventory in the first few weeks of the pandemic.
ActivePure’s air purifiers, are based on a technology developed in the 1990s at the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR), a NASA Research Partnership Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The goal was to eliminate the plant hormone ethylene from the air around plants in spacecraft. Without gravity to move the air around, ethylene accumulated around plants, causing premature withering.
As engineers at the NASA-funded Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics built the Astroculture plant growth chamber in the 1990s, they came up with photocatalytic oxidation as a way to prevent the buildup of ethylene, a plant growth hormone that accelerates ripening and withering
But the solution they devised, known as photocatalytic oxidation, eliminated a lot more than ethylene, and proved useful in air purification technologies.
ActivePure now incorporates photocatalytic oxidation into about 100 different air purifiers under several brand names, from portable units to those that fit in air ducts, cars, or elevators.
Other developers, such as Airgloss, created sensors based on NASA technology, to detect impurities in the air, and feed into its filters.
Heart rate identification that could be used to unlock your phone
The Spinoff 2022 book also features a Spinoffs of Tomorrow section that highlights NASA technologies ripe for commercial application and available for licensing.
These include a next-generation biometric identity verification system to unlock phones and computers using heartbeats.
Based on NASA technology, developed to closely monitor individual astronauts in space, heartbeats could be the next big biometric identifier
Currently, biometric data points, such as fingerprints, voice-prints, retinal scans, and facial features are used to identify, or to authenticate the identity of a user.
Based on NASA technology, developed to closely monitor individual astronauts in space, heartbeats could be the next big biometric identifier.
The heartbeat system could be used in everything from replacing an individuals PC passwords to access a bank account, NASA predicted.
In the technology, it measures electrical signals associated with heart waves, with about 192 different parameters that serve as a unique identifier.
NASA suggests this could be used in identity verification, law enforcement, banking, network logins, work clock-in and out, healthcare and in passports.
So far no companies have produced products based on this technology, which NASA says is available to license, but doesn’t come with software.
A nanomaterial thin-film device that can convert carbon dioxide into fuel, and a self-healing aluminum that can repair cracks and reverse damage in structures such as aircraft, tanks, and fuel lines, are also among currently unlicensed patents.
NASA has developed a new technology that can convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (C02) into fuel by using solar-powered, thin-film devices
‘NASA’s technology portfolio contains many innovations that not only enable exploration but also address challenges and improve life here at home,’ said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington.
‘We’ve captured these examples of successful commercialization of NASA technology and research, not only to share the benefits of the space program with the public but to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.’
Other highlights include one of the first robotic commercial lunar landers, developed with NASA mentorship and technology investment.
While not direct offshoots of NASA technology, they are privately developed devices, built under NASA guidance that will go to the Moon this year.
The publication also features a grip-strengthening glove based on a robotic astronaut assistant that helps reduce workplace stress injuries.
NASA has developed a new metal matrix composite (MMC) that can repair itself from large fatigue cracks that occur during the service life of a structure
There is also a detect-and-avoid systems, flight simulators, and a navigation app that enable remotely piloted aircraft to fill the sky.
‘These NASA technologies are not only giving companies and entrepreneurs a competitive edge in their own industries but are also helping to shape budding industries, such as commercial lunar landers,’ said Daniel Lockney, Technology Transfer program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
‘NASA is much more than rocket launches and astronauts. We’re about improving the quality of life for people all around the world.’
Spinoff is part of the agency’s Technology Transfer program, charged with finding the widest possible applications for NASA technology.
This is either through partnerships, or licencing agreements with industry – that ensure NASA investments in research and space have other applications.
EXPLAINED: THE $100 BILLION INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH
The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.
Crews have come mainly from the US and Russia, but the Japanese space agency JAXA and European space agency ESA have also sent astronauts.
The International Space Station has been continuously occupied for more than 20 years and has been expended with multiple new modules added and upgrades to systems
Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.
ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.
The US space agency, NASA, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, with the remaining funding coming from international partners, including Europe, Russia and Japan.
So far 244 individuals from 19 countries have visited the station, and among them eight private citizens who spent up to $50 million for their visit.
There is an ongoing debate about the future of the station beyond 2025, when it is thought some of the original structure will reach ‘end of life’.
Russia, a major partner in the station, plans to launch its own orbital platform around then, with Axiom Space, a private firm, planning to send its own modules for purely commercial use to the station at the same time.
NASA, ESA, JAXA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are working together to build a space station in orbit around the moon, and Russia and China are working on a similar project, that would also include a base on the surface.