NASA SBIR 2021-II Solicitation

Proposal Summary

Proposal Information

Proposal Number:
21-2- S1.06-1579
Phase 1 Contract #:
Subtopic Title:
Particles and Fields Sensors and Instrument Enabling Technologies
Proposal Title:
Fail-safe Cold Cathode Ionizer

Small Business Concern

Physical Sciences, Inc.
20 New England Business Center , Andover, MA 01810
(978) 689-0003                                                                                                                                                                                

Principal Investigator:

Dr. Jonathan Rameau
20 New England Business Center, MA 01810 - 1077
(978) 738-8265                                                                                                                                                                                

Business Official:

Dr. William Marinelli
20 New England Business Center , MA 01810 - 1077
(978) 738-8226                                                                                                                                                                                

Summary Details:

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :                                                                                                                                                          
Begin: 4
End: 6
Technical Abstract (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words):

In response to NASA’s call for development of enabling technologies for space exploration instrumentation such as mass spectrometers, Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI) is developing a novel cold cathode ionizer. The ionizer, which is being optimized for application to Heliophysics mass spectroscopy in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) combines exceptionally low power consumption, high output current densities, high reliability and an extremely compact form factor. PSI’s cold cathode ionizer is also uniquely resistant to degradation by the hyperthermal atomic oxygen present in LEO. The properties render PSI’s cold cathode technology uniquely suited to use near Earth, particularly those flown on cubesats and similar small spacecraft platforms.


In Phase I of the development program, PSI successfully demonstrated the operating principle behind the cold cathode electron gun, yielding stable emission current densities over 60 mA/cm2 in a breadboard device. In Phase II, PSI will optimize the field emission technology while shrinking and ruggedizing the devices. The Phase II program will culminate in delivery of a flight-capable cold cathode ionizer to NASA meeting or exceeding every key performance parameter required for integration into cubesat-based mass spectrometers for Heliophysics applications.

Potential NASA Applications (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words):

Mass spectrometers for planetary and space environment studies, particularly the mini time-of-flight mass spectrometers being developed for Heliophysics applications. Future applications in instrumentation for outer worlds and their moons, as well as any instrument requiring high flux electron beams.

Potential Non-NASA Applications (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words):

Space Force personnel have expressed interest in the ionizer technology for LEO and sub-orbital mass spectrometer applications, as well as for other applications. There are also applications to electron accelerators and to x-ray generators for applications such as time and space resolved x-ray sources for medical imagers.

Duration:     24

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