A New Zealand wool product will be making its way into space later this month, as part of NASA’s mission to the moon.
An Orion spacecraft will launch on an unmanned test flight on August 30 ahead of scheduled manned missions.
On board for the ride will be Kiwi company Lanaco’s filters made from New Zealand sheep wool.
Lanaco founder Nick Davenport said it was the same technology as in the company’s personal protective equipment, face masks and home air purifiers.
“It’s a very small, tiny piece of wool technology which protects astronauts in the event of a fire on board the capsule,” he said.
“It’s part of their critical life support system. This technology increases the window of opportunity for survival significantly, so it’s a really, really important part of the programme but a tiny piece of wool is the key.”
The company was sought out by NASA in 2017 and sent samples the following year.
“We made some prototypes using our existing material, so we’ve made some finished prototypes which they’ve then adopted,” Davenport said.
“Basically it’s exactly the same product that is used in face masks that we use for everyday people in New Zealand.”
Eighteen months later, their filter was chosen over every international competitor.
Davenport said it showed investment in wool science could produce more than just socks.
The company is currently exploring medical and automotive uses for its wool, to protect people in cars and hospitals.
Meanwhile, using Lanaco’s technology in space also illustrated possible applications closer to home, Davenport told The Country’s Jamie Mackay.
“If you think around the world at the moment, with wildfires, which have got hot particles and water vapor being sprayed around to protect firemen – that’s exactly the application that can be used [here] on earth – or in fact anywhere where a person is breathing air in a highly moist environment.
“Every person breathes out moisture, so, collecting particles in a moist environment is where our technology shines and the NASA example holds that out to the whole world.”
While sending a tiny piece of wool into space wouldn’t save the New Zealand wool industry, it had definitely made a financial impact for Lanaco, Davenport said.
“It’s certainly probably the most expensive piece of wool we’ve ever supplied at the greatest return per kilo,” he laughed.
– RNZ, with additional reporting from The Country