HPLC-chip. MIT

The search for signs of life on planets and moons within the Solar System requires developing new techniques and technologies to identify biosignatures in materials like rocks, soils and ices. Researchers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are making steps toward this goal by designing a miniaturized instrument to analyze organic compounds in planetary materials. Ultimately, the team hopes to develop an instrument for use on both robotic and human missions to a variety of planetary bodies.

Recently, the team published details on their progress toward a Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS)-based ion chromatograph (IC) for water analysis. This IC-chip is an offshoot of another NASA-funded effort to produced a high-performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC)-chip with a low mass and high analytical capabilities.

The work was supported in part by the Astrobiology Science & Technology Instrument Development (ASTID) element of the NASA Astrobiology Program. ASTID was an active program element from 1998 to 2013 and supported astrobiology-related instrument development. These types of projects are now competed under Planetary Instrument Concepts for the Advancement of Solar System Observations (PICASSO) and Maturation of Instruments for Solar System Exploration (MatISSE). PICASSO supports instrument development at Technical Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1 through 3, while MatISSE supports instrument development at TRLs 4 through 6.

The study was published in collections from the 45th International Conference on Environmental Systems, held in Bellevue, Washington in 2015.