Investigation 4

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Research Investigation 4: Development of in situ instrumentation to detect isotopic biosignatures on planetary missions

Our ultimate goal is to develop the methodology and a breadboard instrument for making chemical and isotopic analyses on rocks and soils using a miniature mass spectrometer (MMS). The instrument will be amenable for space applications including deployment on a robotic rover to other planetary bodies such as Mars. In this investigation we will develop methods for the isotopic analysis of H, C, O, S, Fe, Ca, and Mg of carbonate, oxide, and sulfate minerals for determining biosignature and paleo-environmental conditions of chemically precipitated sediments. In essence, we are developing the technology that will replace the functionality of large terrestrial laboratories with a small reaction vessel and miniature mass spectrometer that is suitable for deployment to nearly any environment.


The Miniature Mass Spectrometer (MMS) developed at NASA-JPL. The MMS has a dimension of 10 cm x 5 cm x 5 cm. The analyzer itself has a mass of ~265 g.

Our objectives in Investigation 4 are to:

  • Develop methods for creating vapor of carbonates, oxides, and sulfates to inlet into the MMS for elemental and isotopic analysis of H, C, O, S, Fe, Ca, and Mg;
  • Test the accuracy and precision of isotope analyses using the MMS with the CCD collector array with pure vapor samples for isotopic analysis of H, C, O, S, Fe, Ca, Mg using a standard-sample comparison method;
  • Establish collaboration between engineers/physicists and astrobiologists in the development of instrumentation for astrobiological investigations.

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