There is a need to acquire autonomously cryogenic hydrocarbon liquid sample from remote planetary locations such as the lakes of Titan for instruments such as mass spectrometers. There are several problems that had to be solved relative to collecting the right amount of cryogenic liquid sample into a warmer spacecraft, such as not allowing the sample to boil off or fractionate too early; controlling the intermediate and final pressures within carefully designed volumes; designing for various particulates and viscosities; designing to thermal, mass, and power-limited spacecraft interfaces; and reducing risk. Prior art inlets for similar instruments in spaceflight were designed primarily for atmospheric gas sampling and are not useful for this front-end application.
These cryogenic liquid sample acquisition system designs for remote space applications allow for remote, autonomous, controlled sample collections of a range of challenging cryogenic sample types. The design can control the size of the sample, prevent fractionation, control pressures at various stages, and allow for various liquid sample levels. It is capable of collecting repeated samples autonomously in difficult low-temperature conditions often found in planetary missions. It is capable of collecting samples for use by instruments from difficult sample types such as cryogenic hydrocarbon (methane, ethane, and propane) mixtures with solid particulates such as found on Titan. The design with a warm actuated valve is compatible with various spacecraft thermal and structural interfaces.
The design uses controlled volumes, heaters, inlet and vent tubes, a cryogenic valve seat, inlet screens, temperature and cryogenic liquid sensors, seals, and vents to accomplish its task.
This work was done by Paul Mahaffy, Melissa Trainer, Don Wegel, Douglas Hawk, Tony Melek, Christopher Johnson, Michael Amato, and John Galloway of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-16510-1