Miniature gas sensors, that were originally developed to measure oxygen levels in plasma wind tunnels for the European space program, are being thought for a variety of new clinical applications.
The Institute of Space Systems (IRS) of the University of Stuttgart in Germany began developing special ceramic gas sensors 15 years ago. They were used to measure oxygen distribution in the plasma wind tunnels used to test heat-shield materials for re-entry spacecraft in extreme conditions, the scientists said.
‘The sensors available at that time were no good for space systems because they were big, quite heavy and used a lot of heating power,’ said Rainer Baumann, a researcher at the Technical University of Dresden (TU Dresden) who took part in the project to produce the small sensor. ‘So we had to develop a new type of miniaturised sensor to measure re-entry conditions for spacecraft. The sensors had to be very small and capable of measuring oxygen at high altitudes and during re-entry.’
Despite their traditional use in space-related activities, the ESA’s Technology Transfer programme (TTPO) and its technology transfer network partner MST had shown in a series of presentations that the gas sensor technology can be applied elsewhere. The concept kick-started IRS scientists into action, encouraging them to further develop and promote the sensor for terrestrial and spatial use in the field of modern gas analysis.
Mr Baumann remarked, ‘It is very easy to find terrestrial applications for this miniaturised gas sensor. The sensor reacts very fast and this is useful in many cases where you need to measure ambient conditions on Earth.’ The researcher also touched on the practicality of using the sensor to measure human breath. ‘With this sensor we can measure oxygen, carbon dioxide and the flow of human breath, and obtain the results immediately,’ he said, adding it’s ‘something which is impossible with the (conventional) systems’.
Press release: Researchers say space sensors good for terrestrial use