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Planetary Instrument Concepts for the Advancement of Solar System Observations


Completed Technology Project

Project Description


Understanding the origin, distribution and processing of organic compounds in cryogenic planetary environments is one of the most compelling future directions in Solar System research. Such organics are structurally and functionally diverse, despite their low-temperature origins, and are thus thought to constitute an enabling 'prebiotic' inventory for the potential emergence of life. Top-priority planetary science goals for the coming decades will require detailed in situ studies of surface and near-surface composition to elucidate molecular structure and unambiguous identification of complex mixtures of organics derived from icy environments that typify key primitive and planetary bodies. These planned investigations will further our understanding of primordial sources of organic matter, and the role and distribution of ancient Solar System and interstellar materials with implications for the delivery of water, volatiles and hydrocarbons to Earth and other planetary bodies. Comets, Jupiter's Europa, and Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, represent examples of such organic-rich targets that will be centerpieces to scientific exploration in the next decade. We propose to develop a highly capable mass spectrometer instrument suite that will transform our understanding of these and other planetary environments. This comprehensive, in situ investigation requires versatile and high-performance instrumentation capable of: 1. Quantitative measurements of trace levels (e.g., ppmw) of organic and inorganic compounds over a wide range of volatility, ionization potential and molecular weight; 2. Selective excitation and isolation of targeted mass ranges for enhanced signal-to-noise (and by extension limits-of-detection) and controlled ion manipulation and ejection; 3. Induced fragmentation of parent molecules and structural analysis of daughter ions via multiple stages of mass spectrometry (i.e., MSn operations) for the unambiguous identification of complex organic compounds and differentiation of isomers; and, 4. Mass discrimination and disambiguation of isotopologues and organic and inorganic isobaric interferences with high-resolution (i.e., m/µm 10,000) and mass accuracy. The proposed Advanced Resolution Organic Molecule Analyzer (AROMA) instrument will meet all of these performance requirements.

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