The goal of this work was to advance the development of new, extremely small (≈2 cm3), low-power (≈3 W), and low-cost micro mass spectrometer instrument systems (μMSIS) through the application of microelectro-mechanical system (MEMS) design and fabrication, and microsystem component integration and packaging toward pico-satellite and/or other distributed planetary payload platforms. The work will enable early coincident design and development of the critical microsystem integration and packaging required to achieve the final level of miniaturization offered by this core μ-CIT (micro cylindrical ion trap) technology. A MEMS μMSIS packaging concept is modular and flexible to further integration of a micro gas chromatograph, micro vacuum chamber, and microelectronic components into a complete instrument system pico-satellite probe array.

Realizing these advances in a fieldable/flyable sensor system requires full integration of the μ-CIT with supporting MEMS components, electronics, and packaging. This development has the potential to drastically reduce instrument costs; increase measurement efficiencies through smaller size, mass, and power consumption; and perform new measurements through arrayed instrument system application. At the endstate of miniaturization, μMSIS and pico-satellite probes may achieve characteristic dimensions comparable to a cellphone.

This initiative aims to demonstrate the capabilities of an entirely new class of μMSIS as chemical analyzers in spaceflight missions. The goal is to provide new, cutting-edge methods to create highly sensitive mass spectrometers (MS) with the potential for very low mass, very small volume, and low power capabilities.

MS technology can be used for detection of molecules of interest to NASA planetary and astrobiology programs, and the MS can be used to measure higher-mass molecules (up to 250 amu). After the sample isolation chamber (SIC) interlock is closed, the sample collector plate can be heated slowly to desorb molecules with lower vapor pressures from the plate or from dust particles collected on the plate for analysis. Upon de - sorption of the chemicals, molecules flow into an array of μ-CIT MS, where they can be ionized using a special electron ionization source. The ionized molecules will then be mass-analyzed and detected by a microchannel plate (MCP) with a multi-anode system, then ready for analysis and readout electronics.

This work was done by Patrick A. Roman, William B. Brinckerhoff, George Manos, and Kyle J. Gregory of Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA is seeking partners to further develop this technology through joint cooperative research and development. For more information about this technology and to explore opportunities, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. GSC-17008-1


Photonics & Imaging Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2016 issue of Photonics & Imaging Technology Magazine.

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