NASA seeks to develop an Aerosol Separator (AS) as the sample inlet for any mass spectrometer (MS) operating in a planetary atmosphere containing suspended aerosols, including liquid, icy, and metallic particles. The primary role of the AS is to inertially set apart heavier particles from the gas using the NanoJet technology, and determine aerosol chemical composition, number, and size distribution. The most stressing case for the new AS technology is the unknown 360 nm absorber suspended in acidic aerosols in Venus’ clouds. It is also applicable for aerial and surface missions to Titan and Mars and subsonic probe missions to the ice giants. The MS measurements require low gas pressures created by vacuum pumps, and for the planetary missions these pumps must be extremely small and lightweight. To meet this need, on the proposed program, Creare plans to develop and deliver advanced miniature vacuum pumps that are compact, lightweight, and will withstand the challenging sampling conditions presented by acidic aerosols and spaceflight. In Phase I, we will perform life testing of pumps with acidic sampling gases and develop pump and electronics designs for a flight system. In Phase II, we will build and deliver pumps and electronics for use in a NASA test facility. In Phase III, we will deliver components for space missions based on our past successful vacuum systems used on the Mars Science Laboratory and ExoMars MSs.
The successful completion of this program will result in miniature vacuum pumps that are tolerant to the most extreme planetary atmospheric environments in our solar system. The vacuum pumps will be ideal for use in an aerosol separator to study planetary atmospheric composition. Potential NASA missions include a mission to study acidic aerosols in the clouds of Venus, aerial and surface missions to Titan and Mars, and subsonic probe missions to the ice giants.
The military and commercial market for the Creare miniature pump technology are for light weight and portable MSs and gas chromatographs for air sampling, radioactive material identification, and homeland security applications.