Arevalo et al. (2018) rAPID Communications

An Orbitrap-based laser desorption/ablation mass spectrometer designed for spaceflight

RATIONALE: The investigation of cryogenic planetary environments as potential harbors for extant life and/or contemporary sites of organic synthesis represents an emerging focal point in planetary exploration. Next generation instruments need to be capable of unambiguously determining elemental and/or molecular stoichiometry via highly accurate mass measurements and the separation of isobaric interferences.

METHODS: An OrbitrapTM analyzer adapted for spaceflight (referred to as the CosmOrbitrap), coupled with a commercial pulsed UV laser source (266 nm), is shown to successfully characterize a variety of planetary analog samples via ultrahigh resolution laser desorption/ablation mass spectrometry. The materials analyzed in this study include: jarosite (a hydrous sulfate detected on Mars); magnesium sulfate (a potential component of the subsurface ocean on Europa); uracil (a nucleobase of RNA); and a variety of amino acids.

RESULTS: The instrument configuration tested here enables: measurement of major elements and organic molecules with ultrahigh mass resolution (m/Δm ≥ 120,000, FWHM); quantification of isotopic abundances with <1.0% (2σ) precision; and, identification of highly accurate masses within 3.2 ppm of absolute values. The analysis of a residue of a dilute solution of amino acids demonstrates the capacity to detect twelve amino acids in positive ion mode at concentrations as low as ≤1 pmol/mm2 while maintaining mass resolution and accuracy requirements.

CONCLUSIONS: The CosmOrbitrap mass analyzer is highly sensitive and delivers mass resolution/accuracy unmatched by any instrument sent into orbit or launched into deep space. This prototype instrument, which maps to a spaceflight implementation, represents a mission-enabling technology capable of advancing planetary exploration for decades to come.

Li et al. (2017) International Journal of Mass Spectrometry

Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) laser desorption/ionization source design and performance characterization

The Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA), a dual-source, ion trap-based instrument capable of both pyrolysis-gas chromatography mass spectrometry (pyr/GC–MS) and laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (LDI-MS), is the core astrobiology investigation on the ExoMars rover. The MOMA instrument will be the first spaceflight mass analyzer to exploit the LDI technique to detect refractory organic compounds and characterize host mineralogy; this mode of analysis will be conducted at Mars ambient conditions. In order to achieve high performance in the Martian environment while keeping the instrument compact and low power, a number of innovative designs and components have been implemented for MOMA. These include a miniaturized linear ion trap (LIT), a fast actuating aperture valve with ion inlet tube, and a Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) Pirani sensor. Advanced analytical capabilities like Stored Waveform Inverse Fourier Transform (SWIFT) for selected ion ejection and tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) are realized in LDI-MS mode, and enable the isolation and enhancement of specific mass ranges and structural analysis, respectively. We report here the technical details of these instrument components as well as system-level analytical capabilities, and we review the applications of this technology to Mars and other high-priority targets of planetary exploration.

Jenner and Arevalo Jr. (2016) Elements

Major and trace element analysis of natural and experimental igneous systems using LA-ICP-MS

Laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA–ICP–MS) enables spatially resolved quantitative measurements of major, minor and trace element abundances in igneous rocks and minerals with equal or better precision than many other in situ techniques, and more rapidly than labour-intensive wet chemistry procedures. Common applications for LA–ICP–MS in the Earth sciences centre on investigating the composition of natural and experimental geological materials, including: analysis of whole rock silicate glasses, flux-free pressed powder tablets and/or fused aliquots of materials; in situ probing of individual minerals, xenocrysts, fluid and melt inclusions, experimental run products, and siderophile-rich micronuggets; and multidimensional chemical mapping of complex (multiphase) materials.

Arevalo et al. (2015) IEEE Aerospace

Design and Demonstration of the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) on the ExoMars 2018 Rover

The Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) investigation is a key astrobiology experiment scheduled to launch on the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars 2018 rover mission. MOMA will examine the chemical composition of geological samples acquired from depths of up to two meters below the martian surface, where fragile organic molecules may be protected from destructive cosmic radiation and/or oxidative chemical reactions. The heart of the MOMA mass spectrometer subsystem (i.e., MOMA-MS) is a miniaturized linear ion trap (LIT) that supports two distinct modes of operation to detect: i) volatile and semi-volatile, low-to-moderate mass organics (up to 500 Da) via pyrolysis coupled with gas chromatography mass spectrometry (pyr/GCMS); and, ii) more refractory, moderate-to-high mass compounds (up to 1000 Da) via laser desorption (LDMS) at ambient Mars pressures. Additionally, the LIT mass analyzer enables selective ion trapping via multi-frequency waveform ion excitation (e.g., stored waveform inverse Fourier transform, or SWIFT), and structural characterization of complex molecules using tandem mass spectrometry (MSIMS).

A high-fidelity Engineering Test Unit (ETU) of MOMAMS, including the LIT subassembly, dual-gun electron ionization source, micropirani pressure gauge, solenoid-driven aperture valve, redundant detection chains, and control electronics, has been built and tested at NASA GSFC under relevant operational conditions (pressure, temperature, etc.). Spaceflight qualifications of individual hardware components and integrated subassemblies have been validated through vibration, shock, thermal, lifetime, and performance evaluations. The ETU serves as a pathfinder for the flight model buildup, integration and test, as the ETU meets the form, fit and function of the flight unit that will be delivered to MPS in late 2015. To date, the ETU of MOMA-MS has been shown to meet or exceed all functional requirements, including mass range, resolution, accuracy, instrumental drift, and Iimit-of-detection specifications, thereby enabling the primary science objectives of the MOMA investigation and ExoMars 2018 mission.

Li et al. (2015) Astrobiology

Detection of Trace Organics in Mars Analog Samples Containing Perchlorate by Laser Desorption/Ionization Mass Spectrometry

Evidence from recent Mars missions indicates the presence of perchlorate salts up to 1 wt % level in the near-surface materials. Mixed perchlorates and other oxychlorine species may complicate the detection of organic molecules in bulk martian samples when using pyrolysis techniques. To address this analytical challenge, we report here results of laboratory measurements with laser desorption mass spectrometry, including analyses performed on both commercial and Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) breadboard instruments. We demonstrate that the detection of nonvolatile organics in selected spiked mineral-matrix materials by laser desorption/ionization (LDI) mass spectrometry is not inhibited by the presence of up to 1wt % perchlorate salt. The organics in the sample are not significantly degraded or combusted in the LDI process, and the parent molecular ion is retained in the mass spectrum. The LDI technique provides distinct potential benefits for the detection of organics in situ on the martian surface and has the potential to aid in the search for signs of life on Mars.

Arevalo (2014) Treatise on Geochemistry 2nd Ed.

Laser Ablation ICP-MS and Laser Fluorination GS-MS

Laser ablation ICP-MS and laser fluorination GS-MS provide two in situ methods of chemical analysis with applications to geo- and cosmochemistry, medicine, environmental sciences, industry, and a wide spectrum of other disciplines. Both methods provide the spatial resolution lacking from traditional solution and/or bulk sample chemical analysis techniques. In particular, LA-ICP-MS offers the versatility, resolution, and sensitivity to determine routinely ultratrace element abundances and high-precision isotopic compositions in any solid-sample material. Laser fluorination techniques, on the other hand, have been specifically modified to maximize precision, sensitivity, and spatial resolution for the high-precision, high-accuracy measurement of O and S isotopic compositions in silicates, oxides, sulfides, bulk rock samples, and a variety of other materials.


Work ongoing...