Spinoff is NASA’s annual publication featuring successfully commercialized NASA technology. This commercialization has contributed to the development of products and services in the fields of health and medicine, consumer goods, transportation, public safety, computer technology, and environmental resources.

The Canary-S can monitor forest fire emissions, evaluate urban air quality, and more. (Credit: Lunar Outpost)

Moon dust isn’t like the dust on a bookshelf. It is ubiquitous and abrasive, and it clings to everything. It’s so bad that it even broke the vacuum NASA designed to clean the Moon dust off Apollo spacesuits. With NASA’s return to the Moon, the dust — which is dangerous for people and equipment — will have to be managed. The first step is knowing how much is around at any given time. Efforts to do just that are already paying off on Earth in the fight against air pollution.

Apollo missions struggled to deal with damage done by lunar dust. It clogged the camera equipment and scratched helmet visors so badly that astronauts had difficulty seeing. Breathing in the dust caused astronauts to experience sneezing, watery eyes, and a sore throat.

Sensitive tissues such as the lungs and corneas can be damaged by lunar dust trapped inside a habitat. While air filtration can remove a great deal of the tiny particles, an air-quality sensor is necessary to ensure the controls are effective.

Lunar Outpost Inc. was founded in Denver, CO in 2017 with the goal of developing technologies for lunar exploration and then adapting them for use on Earth. The company developed an air-quality sensor it called the Space Canary, which it offered to Lockheed Martin Space to integrate into its environmental control system. Rebranded Canary-S (Solar), it’s now filling a need for low-cost, wireless air-quality and meteorological monitoring on Earth.

Particulate matter on Earth is a form of air pollution generated by forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and burning fossil fuels, among other processes. The particles, a mix of liquid and solid, are tiny — much smaller than a grain of sand. Having a measurement system like Lunar Outpost’s system would help NASA understand the environment astronauts are experiencing and help the agency stay within recommended exposure limits.

As the Apollo astronauts explored the lunar surface, they had to contend with lunar dust, which is abrasive and damaging to equipment and lungs. (Credit: NASA)

The Canary-S is a self-contained unit powered by solar energy and a battery that transmits data using cellular technology. It can measure a variety of pollutants including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, methane, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. The device is constantly taking measurements and sends a message up to a secure cloud every minute, where it’s routed to Lunar Outpost’s Web-based dashboard or a customer’s database for viewing and analysis.

The Canary-S is deployed in 15 states and across numerous industries including the U.S. Forest Service, which is using the Canary-S to monitor forest-fire emissions in real time. Firefighters have been exhibiting symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning for decades. The Canary-S reveals where and when carbon monoxide levels are sky-high, making it possible to issue warnings to take the necessary precautions.

The city of Denver chose the Canary sensor to collect air-quality data at local schools to educate and inform teachers, parents, and students about their local air quality. The data quantified the benefits of a no-idle campaign near schools and provided general emissions pollution in key sites around the city.

In the oil and gas industry, the sensors can help provide evidence for how effective environmental controls are. That data can help justify the cost of those controls. Without the readings, the oil and gas producers have no way to prove that their efforts are reducing their impact on the environment.

Read this and other NASA Spin-Offs on NASA.gov .


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This article first appeared in the August, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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