Human missions to the Moon and Mars will require advanced systems to maintain an environment supporting human life. Smart greenhouses are necessary for fresh food supply in long term space missions. Through natural metabolic processes, plants can produce ethylene, which can accumulate in closed environments and have undesirable effects on the plants. These effects can include reduced growth, impaired pollen development and/or fertilization, leaf epinasty, flower abortion, accelerated fruit ripening, and more. Traditional analytical methods used to identify and determine levels of ethylene are time-consuming, technically demanding, and often expensive.
In our NASA STTR Phase 1, we propose to develop a compact, portable and robust battery-powered analytical instrument for monitoring of ultra-low concentrations of ethylene in complex backgrounds. The device is based on principles of analytical gas chromatography (GC) and utilizes a novel highly integrated multisensory detector. Due to implementation of a multisensory detector, the device collects multiple chromatograms in a single run. The sensors in the integrated MEMS platform are near-orthogonal and possess very distinct catalytic properties. Hence, the time separation by chromatographic column is complemented by catalytic separation by a multisensory detector.
The outcome of this GC/MEMS hybrid technology, is the ability to monitor a very broad range of analytes from light to heavy on a relatively short and compact GC column in a short period of time of 12.5 min. Also, the device can perform the analysis in a broad range of concentrations from sub-ppb to hundreds of ppm. Our modular design allows quick interchange columns and detectors to achieve optimum instrument performance. Preliminary testing shows a great promise in utilization of Porapak P column as packing material for chromatography column and a novel multisensory detector for extraction and quantification of ethylene down to 25 ppb.
Compact analytical instrumentation for in-situ instruments and remote exploration of the Moon and Mars are of high impact for NASA space missions. Our proposed instrument is compact, robust and low power, with sensitivity and recognition power for certain classes of chemicals, exceeding the capabilities of conventional gas chromatography, via implementation of a novel highly integrated detector. Our technology is suitable for application in NASAˇs New Frontiers and Discovery missions and in-situ detection of evidence of life in Ocean Worlds.
The potential customer for the proposed product includes small to large companies, civilian & defense government facilities, specialized in: agriculture and plant biology, oil & gas production and distribution, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, water & wastewater, thermal power, food & beverages, pulp & paper, metal & mining, cement & glass, and others utilizing chemically active substances.