Collaboration between the Univ. of Maryland (Geology), NASA GSFC, and other strategic partners have enabled the following development programs that promise to redefine our understanding of the Solar System:
AROMA: Advanced Resolution Organic Molecule Analyzer for complete organic characterization
By leveraging a heritage linear ion trap mass analyzer, the AROMA instrument reproduces the functionality of the MOMA flight instrument (on the ExoMars rover), but with an extended mass range (up to 2000 Da) and more capable laser (higher energy plus precision attenuation). Equipped with an Orbitrap analyzer adapted for spaceflight, referred to as the CosmOrbitrap by the consortium of French laboratories responsible for its development, the AROMA instrument delivers higher mass resolution and accuracy than any instrument previously flown to date (e.g., the ROSINA time-of-flight mass spectrometer on the Rosetta spacecraft) or baselined for future missions (e.g., MASPEX on the Europa Clipper mission). A breadboard of the system has been built and is currently being tested through the NASA ROSES PICASSO Program.
CRATER: Characterization of Regolith and Trace Economic Resources for lunar surface exploration
Laser desorption/ablation mass spectrometry, as empowered by the CosmOrbitrap mass analyzer and a pulsed UV laser system, enables the characterization of: mineralogical constitution and inorganic elemental composition of geological samples; distributions, abundances, and diversity of organic compounds; and, economically viable resources. The CosmOrbitrap breadboard instrument in Orléans, France has been shown to detect amino acids and other prebiotic molecules down to pmol-level concentrations while maintaining 3 ppm (or better) mass accuracy, m/Δm > 100,000 (FWHM) mass resolution at m/z 100, and <1% (2σ) isotopic precision. A low SWaP (Size, Weight and Power) advanced prototype that maps to a spaceflight configuration is currently in design through the NASA ROSES DALI Program. Image modified from Arevalo et al. (2018) Rapid Communications.
A miniaturized ICPMS: for the geochemical exploration of planetary surfaces in situ
Traditional modes of in situ chemical analysis available for planetary exploration, such as
evolved gas analysis (EGA; e.g., SAM), laser desorption mass spectrometry (LDMS; e.g., MOMA), and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS; e.g., SuperCam), can measure major element abundances to high precision, but are challenged to meet the limits-of-detection required to accurately quantify trace element concentrations. We are in process of developing a miniaturized ICPMS through the NASA ROSES PICASSO Program that integrates: 1) an innovative, low-power, and self-sustaining Ar plasma source that operates at sub-atmospheric pressures; and, 2) a legacy quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS) based on the compact heritage design of the Pioneer Venus ONMS.
Femtosecond Laser Ablation ICPMS: Attenuation of laser induced elemental fractionation for the most precise and accuract measurements
Laser systems that generate nanosecond (1E-9 s) pulses have served as benchmarks for laser desorption and ablation mass spectrometry techniques for decades. However, ns laser pulses irradiate the sample several orders-of-magnitude longer than the phonon relaxation rates of most geological materials, resulting in excessive heating of mineral lattices and leading to: shock waves; plasma formation; sample melting/vaporization; and ultimately, laser induced elemental fractionation (LIEF). Femtosecond (1E-15 s) laser pulses, on the other hand, irradiate the sample on shorter time scales than heat can be conducted in the mineral lattice, leading to electronic excitation and ionization, and suppression of LIEF.
KArLE: Potassium-Argon laser experiment
Radiometric dating techniques provide the foundation for establishing the absolute timing of formational events in the inner Solar System, including crystallization histories, magmatic evolution, and alteration events. The K-Ar Laser Experiment (KArLE), an in situ investigation that unites a novel combination of several flight-proven components, enables accurate dating of planetary materials and identification of the most compelling samples to cache and/or return to Earth. A system-level engineering brassboard, compatible with a variety of commercial lunar lander platforms, will be built, tested, and qualified for spaceflight through the NASA ROSES DALI Program. Image modified from Cohen et al. (2014) GGR.