Sensing the Moon: Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer

Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer

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The Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (ITMS) imaged here belongs of the Exospheric Mass Spectrometer (EMS) instrument that will identify lunar volatiles from both the very thin environment of the Moon and from the lunar soil. Credit: The Open University

A brand-new sensing unit to recognize lunar volatiles is being put together in a tidy space at The Open University, UK ahead of some amazing objectives to the Moon.

The Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (ITMS) imaged above belongs of an instrument that will identify lunar volatiles from both the very thin environment of the Moon and from the lunar soil.

Its name is the Exospheric Mass Spectrometer (EMS), a the crucial element of NASA’s Astrobotic objective that will fly to the Valles Mortis area of the Moon in 2021.

The sensing unit is likewise part of ESA’s Prospect objective to study lunar water ice on board the Russian Luna-27 lander, set for launch in 2025. The platform will sample possible resources on the Moon to prepare innovations for future sustainable expedition.

Developed by researchers at The Open University under an ESA agreement, ITMS is based upon an ‘ion trap’, an innovative gadget that enables scientists to recognize and measure sample atoms and particles through a method referred to as mass spectrometry.

Lunar particles going into the sensing unit are bombarded by electrons released by a heated wire to produce ions. The resulting ions are kept within an electrical field formed by a set of precisely-shaped electrodes. The ions are then launched from this ‘trap’ in order of increasing mass/charge ratio into the detector that determines and measures their chemical makeup.

In order to carry out these delicate measurements, the sensing unit needs to be put together and kept in very tidy conditions.

Scientists at Open University are thrilled about the science they want to receive from those lunar objectives.

“For the first time we can measure how, and in what forms, water is distributed across, above and below the surface.  We can test theories of how the Moon got its water. And we can assess the availability of water ice and other resources for supporting future human presence on the Moon,” describes Simeon Barber, EMS science lead at Open University.

“We expect more flight opportunities for lunar exploration missions in the future, and this project is in many ways a pathfinder for fast track payload developments,” states Roland Trautner, who handles the advancements on the ESA side.

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