International Space Station view from space

Airgloss story: from Earth to space… and back!

June 19th, 2019

In February 2011, at a time when Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and related topics were still mostly unknown to common people, the first three Airgloss NADIR units set sail for an amazing adventure towards the International Space Station.

Not so long before that, NASA (yes, exactly that NASA!) reached out to discuss the important issue of air quality and contaminants aboard the space station.

The problem

Due to the peculiar environment aboard the orbiting complex, it is of vital health to be aware of possible contaminants. Besides the sneaky and already odourless ones, it can get hard for astronauts to “smell” pollutants up there.

Moreover, problems caused by the failure of the air purification systems or contamination from the astronauts’ activities could arise. Consequently, monitoring became necessary for the safety and health of the ISS occupants.

ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori on the International Space Station in 2011 with the air quality control and monitoring system Airgloss NADIR. Photo © NASA
ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori on the International Space Station in 2011 with the air quality control and monitoring system Airgloss NADIR. Photo © NASA

Three Airgloss NADIR units were sent on the ISS during the STS-134 NASA Shuttle Mission in 2011. They were to remain there for the whole experiment period, while a fourth one, the backup one, later returned to Earth. ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori and the crew installed the units, which soon began monitoring the environment with successful results.

The air quality control and monitoring NADIR system consisted of 3 sensor units to be positioned in different locations on the station. Photo © NASA
The air quality control and monitoring Airgloss NADIR system consisted of 3 sensor units to be positioned in different locations on the station. Photo © NASA

The challenge

The main issue in developing this technology was sensor’s reliability. Airgloss units needed to be robust enough to reach the Station and then survive in a critical environment, but also easy to use.

Most importantly, the environment on the ISS required a technology able to assess and learn on its own. Retrieving a sensing unit to reconfigure is really not just one phone call away, up there! For this reason, Airgloss main efforts focused on developing a Multi-Sensing technology based on Artificial Intelligence and Pattern Recognition.

NADIR units, in fact, applied AI and pattern matching to identify pollutants fingerprints. Each pattern, in fact, would be associated to a chemical signature, that corresponds to a specific chemical compound, out of a wide range in its database. The sensor would then alert users in the presence of pollutants.

Three Airgloss NADIR units were installed by ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori inside the ISS in order to monitor air quality, searching for possible anomalies. Photo © NASA
Three Airgloss NADIR units were installed by ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori inside the ISS in order to monitor air quality, searching for possible anomalies. Photo © NASA

The road so far

From this experience, Airgloss decided to develop more products, this time for Earth use. After all, why should indoor air quality only be relevant in space? Research showed that indoor air pollution is often 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor. Limited air exchange is not just a problem inside the International Space Station: it’s also the case for many people inside buildings with poor ventilation.

Therefore, the intention was to bring space technology back to Earth, evolving it into into an affordable solution. The aim? Provide energy efficiency, comfort and safety for homes, workspaces, schools and any other indoor environment.

Combining leading-edge technology with the commitment to offer new solutions for healthier environments.

Airgloss mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) decided to support Airgloss project with a grant. This allowed the initial idea to be turned into a real product, available on the shelf even for residential users. The company is currently located at ESA’s Business Incubation Center in Lazio, Italy.

All photos belong to NASA.

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