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Boeing recently partnered with The University of Queensland in Australia on a joint research project to develop a new antimicrobial surface coating that could fight bacteria and viruses. Prior to the pandemic, such a coating would have been “nice to have” to improve general aircraft cleanliness, but development quickly became much more critical as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The coating was developed as part of Boeing‘s Confident Travel Initiative, which Boeing created in response to health concerns over possible virus transmission during air travel. The program has addressed everything from improving cabin airflow to developing new technologies, like ultraviolet wands and self-disinfecting bathrooms, to make airplanes less conducive to viral spread.
While Boeing previously tested the surface coating in its ecoDemonstrator test aircraft, which serves as a flying testbed, the material was recently sent to the great testbed in the sky. They didn’t kill the project; they moved it to the International Space Station, where astronauts currently conduct experiments with the chemical compound.
The coating was initially developed for space missions, but it has since been modified to battle the COVID-19 virus.
Astronauts perform tests on two identical sets of objects: airplane seat buckles, fabric from airplane seats and seat belts, and parts of an armrest and a tray table. One group has the coating; the other doesn’t. The test is pretty simple: crew members touch each object every few days. In mid-2021, the test objects will be sent back to Boeing‘s labs on Earth to measure the coating’s effectiveness.
The coating might soon protect against disease transmission aboard commercial aircraft, but it could also one day help protect spacecraft from contamination.
Image Credit: International Space Station