Originally intended for the European Space Agency's BepiColombo mission to Mercury, we have built a series of highly miniaturised laser ablation time of flight mass spectrometers (LMS), suitable for in situ measurements of the elemental and isotopic composition of the surface of airless planetary bodies. The instruments will determine ma jor, minor, and trace element abundances in minerals on a spatial scale of 10 m, and will have sufficient dynamic range and mass resolution to perform useful isotopic measurements in favourable cases. Solid material is simultaneously evaporated and ionised by means of laser ablation, requiring intense pulsed laser radiation. Laser ablation was chosen as the sample introduction technique principally because of its high spatial resolution and the lack of any need for sample preparation. Advantages of the technique include simplicity of the resulting design, speed of measurement, and the ability for depth profiling (potentially important for a regolith in which mineral grains are coated with impact produced glass). Time of flight mass spectrometers are simple, robust devices that couple well to a pulsed ion source and we have previous experience of their construction for space flight, e.g. the ROSINA instrument suite for the ROSETTA mission. For BepiColombo, we have built two prototype instruments, one with a design mass of 500 g and a volume comparable to a beer can intended to be deployed on a static lander, and a smaller cigarettebox sized version with a design mass of 250 g, small enough to be integrated in a rover or robotic arm.
Tools and Technologies for Future Planetary Exploration
- Pub Date:
- April 2004