Advanced capabilities for in situ planetary mass spectrometry
Abstract:NASA GSFC has delivered highly capable quadrupole mass spectrometers (QMS) for missions to Venus (Pioneer Venus), Jupiter (Galileo), Saturn/Titan (Cassini-Huygens), Mars (MSL and MAVEN), and the Moon (LADEE). Our understanding of the Solar System has been expanded significantly by these exceedingly versatile yet low risk and cost efficient instruments.
GSFC has developed more recently a suite of advanced instrument technologies promising enhanced science return while selectively leveraging heritage designs. Relying on a traditional precision QMS, the Analysis of Gas Evolved from Samples (AGES) instrument measures organic inventory, determines exposure age and establishes the absolute timing of deposition/petrogenesis of interrogated samples. The Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) aboard the ExoMars 2018 rover employs a two-dimensional ion trap, built analogously to heritage QMS rod assemblies, which can support dual ionization sources, selective ion enrichment and tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). The same miniaturized analyzer serves as the core of the Linear Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (LITMS) instrument, which offers negative ion detection (switchable polarity) and an extended mass range (>2000 Da).
Time-of-flight mass spectrometers (TOF-MS) have been interfaced to a range of laser sources to progress high-sensitivity laser ablation and desorption methods for analysis of inorganic and non-volatile organic compounds, respectively. The L2MS (two-step laser mass spectrometer) enables the desorption of neutrals and/or prompt ionization at IR (1.0 up to 3.1 µm, with an option for tunability) or UV wavelengths (commonly 266 or 355 nm). For the selective ionization of specific classes of organics, such as aromatic hydrocarbons, a second UV laser may be employed to decouple the desorption and ionization steps and limit molecular fragmentation.
Mass analyzers with substantially higher resolving powers (up to m/Δm > 100,000), such as the Advanced Resolution Organic Molecule Analyzer (AROMA) and multipass QMS instruments now under development, offer the potential to disambiguate key chemical signatures in complex mass spectra. Other innovative technologies being pursued include: ion inlet systems; tunable lasers; high-temp pyrolysis ovens; and, sample capture/enrichment techniques.