Washington: You stand a chance to win a grand $100,000 prize for designing a lightweight and easy-to-use aerosol sensor that could be used to monitor air quality in space and on Earth, NASA has announced.

Tiny airborne particles, known as aerosols, can contribute to a variety of health problems, such as asthma and respiratory tract irritation.

To ensure the health of humans living on Earth as well as those travelling in spacecraft to explore the solar system, aerosol sensors are needed to monitor air quality and alert engineers when action is necessary.

But NASA finds the current aerosol instrument technology too large.

"It doesn't offer the necessary level of sensitivity or longevity, along with the ability to operate in reduced-gravity," said Paul Mudgett from NASA's Biomedical Research and Environment Sciences Division.

"Particulate monitoring is a gap in NASA's technology roadmap to enable future long-term missions," Mudgett said.

So NASA is working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a health-focused philanthropy in the US to sponsor the "Earth and Space Air Prize" competition for this solution that could improve air quality and health in space and on Earth.

"Using this collaboration with RWJF, we have an incredible opportunity to close this gap," Mudgett said.

This project is a technology innovation challenge to promote development of robust, durable, inexpensive, efficient, lightweight, and easy-to-use aerosol sensors for space and Earth environments.

The competition asks teams or individuals to design and develop specialised sensor technology that has the potential to be useful in spaceflight as well as on Earth anywhere outdoors in a community where people may be exposed to airborne particles.

The "Earth and Space Air Prize" is a two-phased competition. Registration for the first phase is open until December 13 and requires submission of a sensor design by January 31, 2018.

The competition will name three finalists by the end of March 2018, and each will be awarded $50,000 to build a prototype, NASA said.

Finalists will deliver prototypes to the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, by September 30, 2018 for testing and final evaluation.

The competition will announce the $100,000 grand prize winner in mid-October of 2018, NASA said.