ME Developed Air Samplers are Spacebound

Mechanical engineering Professor John Volckens and research scientist Dan Miller-Lionberg with the thermophoretic sampler.

Dr. John Volckens, ME professor and CSU Energy Institute Researcher, is about to see his lab’s latest development launch into space, and collect data aboard the International Space Station.

Figure 1Mechanical engineering professor John Volckens and research scientist Dan Miller-Lionberg with the thermophoretic sampler

The TPS100 (thermophoretic sampler), is an air sampler will that collect dust particles that pollute the air quality in the ISS. Astronauts have reported eye irritation and other allergies even with the presence of high-efficiency air filters installed on the air returns. The issue is magnified in space because dust particles float in the air, as opposed to settling due to gravity, like on Earth.

“When you hear the words ‘dust in space’ you probably think about fragments of meteorites or other cosmic material,” Volckens said. “It turns out that [the air inside] space stations gets dusty, just like our homes here on Earth, from humans living there.”

Developed with funding from the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, the TPS100 was designed collaboratively by CSU and RJ Lee Group, an analytical microscropy company out of Pittsburgh. The concept originated in Dr. Volckens’ lab several years ago with a wearable TPS, meant for forensic-type analysis of human exposure to airborne particles. It became the TPS100 when Dr. Volckens and RJ Lee Group, including senior scientist Gary Casuccio, formed a partnership and developed a commercially viable version of the TPS, offering zero gravity and portable functionality, ideal for space conditions.

Dan Miller-Lionberg of Dr. Volckens’ lab, received his masters in engineering at CSU, and was the principal mechanical designer of the TPS100, and also led efforts in getting this product commercially-ready. “Simply put, this technology is ideally suited to meet NASA’s needs for particle sampling and characterization in a lightweight, portable package,” Miller-Lionberg said.

One of the thermophoretic samplers that is specially designed for a NASA air-sampling mission

NASA Scientist, Marit Meyer was in search of a product like the TPS100 when she met Casuccio at an aerosol conference a few years ago. “The RJ Lee Group had an ideal sampler I was looking for in the TPS100: a portable collection device based on an operating principle that is compatible with low gravity,” she said.

The NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Life Support Systems Project is funding the 32-day experiment, and Marit hopes it’ll lead to a fast, cost-effective solution.

We look forward to sharing the results of this experiment when the two TPS100 samplers return to Earth for analysis.