A need exists for miniaturized, rugged, low-cost high-vacuum systems. Recent advances in sensor technology have led to the development of very small mass spectrometer detectors as well as other analytical instruments such as scanning electron microscopes. However, the vacuum systems to support these sensors remain large, heavy, and power-hungry. To meet this need, a miniaturized vacuum system was developed based on a very small, rugged, and inexpensive-to-manufacture molecular drag pump (MDP). The MDP is enabled by a miniature, very-high-speed (200,000 rpm), rugged, low-power, brushless DC motor optimized for wide temperature operation and long life.

The key advantages of the pump are reduced cost and improved ruggedness compared to other mechanical high-vacuum pumps. The machining of the rotor and stators is very simple compared to that necessary to fabricate rotor and stator blades for other pump designs. Also, the symmetry of the rotor is such that dynamic balancing of the rotor will likely not be necessary. Finally, the number of parts in the unit is cut by nearly a factor of three over competing designs. The new pump forms the heart of a complete vacuum system optimized to support analytical instruments in terrestrial applications and on spacecraft and planetary landers.

The MDP achieves high vacuum coupled to a ruggedized diaphragm rough pump. Instead of the relatively complicated rotor and stator blades used in turbomolecular pumps, the rotor in the MDP consists of a simple, smooth cylinder of aluminum. This will turn at approximately 200,000 rpm inside an outer stator housing. The pump stator comprises a cylindrical aluminum housing with one or more specially designed grooves that serve as flow channels. To minimize the length of the pump, the gas is forced down the flow channels of the outer stator to the base of the pump. The gas is then turned and pulled toward the top through a second set of channels cut into an inner stator housing that surrounds the motor. The compressed gas then flows down channels in the motor housing to the exhaust port of the pump. The exhaust port of the pump is connected to a commercially available diaphragm or scroll pump.

This work was done by Paul Sorensen and Robert Kline-Schoder of Creare Inc. for Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-15838-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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