NASA has need for technologies that can enable sampling from asteroids and from depth in a comet nucleus, improved in-situ analysis of comets. It has been identified that there is also a requirement for improved dust environment measurements & particle analysis, small body resource identification, and/or quantification of potential small body resources (e.g., oxygen, water and other volatiles, hydrated minerals, carbon compounds, fuels, etc.). We propose to leverage past observations of the ability of electrospray ionization to capture and concentrate polar or polarizable trace species without damage, and combine that knowledge with recent discoveries in developing a hyper velocity ice-gun for NASA studies aimed at ice grain capture simulations. The phase I effort will focus on using the ice gun we created under prior NASA support, and add a novel electrospray cross-current element that creates a soft charging plume across a series of discrete deceleration mylar plates that we believe will enable in-situ organic analysis capability previously unattainable on board a spacecraft using existing NASA mass spectrometer hardware.
This technology offers the means to employ mass spectrometry with comet tail sampling. The ability to non-destructively analyze organic trace species in ice grains traveling at hyper velocities of 5km/s and above, would simplify orbital mechanics for sample interception.The creation of multiply charged ions offers using existing MS instruments to look for organic macromolecules without increasing analyzer upmass, size, or power requirements. This allows in-situ analysis of incident ice grains in near real-time, with samples retained for return.
For Non-NASA applications, the technology being offered in this proposal include the potential for new methods of ambient pathogen capture and soft ionization for mass spectrometric analysis. In addition, other applications may include non-organic polar molecule charging suitable for thin layer deposition, chip fabrication, and other semiconductor uses.