A New Zealand-developed, wool-based filter technology is one of several filter systems being evaluated by NASA to protect astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on upcoming deep-space exploration missions.
Designed by Auckland based wool innovators Lanaco, the HelixTM filter is sourced from the company’s purpose bred AstinoTM sheep and is being tested for use in Orion’s emergency life-support system in the event of on-board fires.
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.
Shaun Tan, Lanaco Head of Technology, recently returned from the Johnson Space Centre in Houston and is confident that the Helix filter can deliver on NASA’s requirements.
“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,” says Dr Tan.
“The Helix filter is currently used in protective equipment in high contaminant situations like construction and mining, but firefighting in space represents a new challenge for our R&D team.”
Lanaco’s wool-filter technology made headlines in 2017 following the launch of anti-pollution face masks now popular in several Asian and Indian mega-cities.
Lanaco CEO Nick Davenport says that recent successes demonstrate the versatility and effectiveness of wool-based air filtration.
“Wool is an outstanding fibre. Its electrostatic properties catch small harmful particles, its protein structure captures gases and harmful toxins and yet the fibre is bacteria and flame resistant. We believe in wool as a sustainable, innovative solution to combat air-pollution,” says Mr Davenport.
“The Lanaco story is one of New Zealand high-country farmers producing the world’s greatest natural fibre to protect people from poor quality air. To now be playing a role in supporting deep space exploration is a testament to the farmers, scientists and manufacturers that have pushed Lanaco to the forefront of filter technology.”