Development of a Photoacoustic Formaldehyde Monitor



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2024 International Conference on Environmnetal Systems


Key indoor air quality pollutant formaldehyde (H2CO) is tracked on International Space Station (ISS) using passive badges returned to the ground periodically for analysis. The process is time-consuming in preparation and analysis upon return 6-12 months later. Badges require precious crew time for deploy, retrieval and stow. As NASA's focus in space exploration shifts to the Moon and Mars, archival sample return becomes increasingly impractical. The aim of this project is to develop a highly reliable real-time analyzer for H2CO at low concentrations with data downlinked. Potential sources of H2CO include materials off-gassing, use of formalin as a tissue fixative in biological payloads and overheating of acetal polymers. The Spacecraft Maximum Allowable Concentration (SMAC) for H2CO is 100 ppb for exposures of 7 days or longer. ISS concentrations recently run only 10 - 30 ppb but have spiked as high as 60 ppb in the past. Gateway real time monitoring requirements for H2CO call for a range of 8 - 140 ppb. For this project, a concentration range of 5 - 500 ppb H2CO is targeted. The core tunable diode laser spectroscopy (TDLS) technology was developed by Vista Photonics through the NASA and US Navy Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs. Monitors based on this technology have been demonstrated on ISS, trialed on a nuclear submarine and are in production as Anomaly Gas Analyzers for ISS and Orion. Initially, direct absorption TDLS was used exclusively in these monitors. The H2CO target concentration, however, is much lower, and a longer wavelength required, so a photoacoustic spectroscopy (PAS) technique was adapted, where the laser excitation is detected by a sensitive microphone vs. a conventional photodetector. This paper will discuss the results of NASA-JSC laboratory testing of a prototype PAS based formaldehyde monitor and explore potential adaptations for Gateway missions and beyond.


Paul Mudgett, NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), USA
E. Spencer Williams, NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), USA
Steve Beck, KBR Wyle, USA
Jeffrey Pilgrim, Vista Photonics, Inc., USA
ICES504: Management of Air Quality in Sealed Environments
The 53rd International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, on 21 July 2024 through 25 July 2024.


formaldehyde, optical sensor, photoacoustic, real time