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In Situ Instruments/Technologies for Ocean Worlds Life Detection

Description:

This subtopic solicits development of in-situ instrument technologies and components to advance the maturity of science instruments focused on the detection of evidence of life, especially extant of life, in the Ocean Worlds (e.g., Europa, Enceladus, Titan, Ganymede, Callisto, Ceres, etc.). These technologies must be capable of withstanding operation in space and planetary environments, including the expected pressures, radiation levels, launch and impact stresses, and range of survival and operational temperatures. Technologies that reduce mass, power, volume, and data rates for instruments and instrument components without loss of scientific capability are of particular importance. In addition, technologies that can increase instrument resolution and sensitivity or achieve new & innovative scientific measurements are solicited.

 

Specifically, this subtopic solicits instrument technologies and components that provide significant advances in the following areas, broken out by planetary body:

 

  • Europa, Enceladus, Titan and other Ocean Worlds in general - Technologies and components relevant to life detection instruments (e.g., microfluidic analyzer, MEMS chromatography/mass spectrometers, laser-ablation mass spectrometer, fluorescence microscopic imager, Raman spectrometer, tunable laser system, liquid chromatography/mass spectrometer, X-ray fluorescence, digital holographic microscope-fluoresce microscope, Antibody microarray biosensor, nanocantilever biodetector etc.) Technologies for high radiation environments, e.g., radiation mitigation strategies, radiation tolerant detectors, and readout electronic components, which enable orbiting instruments to be both radiation-hard and undergo the planetary protection requirements of sterilization (or equivalent).
  • Europa - Life detection approaches optimized for evaluating and analyzing the composition of ice matrices with unknown pH and salt content. Instruments capable of detecting and identifying organic molecules (in particular biomolecules), salts and/or minerals important to understanding the present conditions of Europa s ocean are sought (such as high-resolution gas chromatograph or laser desorption mass spectrometers, dust detectors, organic analysis instruments with chiral discrimination, etc.). These developments should be geared towards analyzing and handling very small sample sizes (mg to mg) and/or low column densities/abundances. Also, of interest are imagers and spectrometers that provide high performance in low-light environments (visible and NIR imaging spectrometers, thermal imagers, etc.), as well as instruments capable of providing improving our understanding Europa s habitability by characterizing the ice, ocean, and deeper interior and monitoring ongoing geological activity such as plumes, ice fractures, and fluid motion (e.g., seismometers, magnetometers). Improvements to instruments capable of gravity (or other) measurements that might constrain properties such as ocean and ice shell thickness will also be considered.
  • Enceladus - Life detection approaches optimized for analyzing plume particles, as well as for determining the chemical state of Enceladus icy surface materials (particularly near plume sites). Instruments capable of detecting and identifying organic molecules (in particular biomolecules), salts and/or minerals important to understand the present conditions of the Enceladus ocean are sought (such as high-resolution gas chromatograph or laser desorption mass spectrometers, dust detectors, organic analysis instruments with chiral discrimination, etc.). These developments should be geared towards analyzing and handling very small sample sizes (mg to mg) and/or low column densities/abundances. Also, of interest are imagers and spectrometers that provide high performance in low-light environments (visible and NIR imaging spectrometers, thermal imagers, etc.), as well as instruments capable of monitoring the bulk chemical composition and physical characteristics of the plume (density, velocity, variation with time, etc.). Improvements to instruments capable of gravity (or other) measurements that might constrain properties such as ocean and ice shell thickness will also be considered.
  • Titan - Life detection approaches optimized for searching for biosignatures and biologically relevant compounds in Titan s lakes, including the presence of diagnostic trace organic species, and also for analyzing Titan s complex aerosols and surface materials. Mechanical and electrical components and subsystems that work in cryogenic (95K) environments; sample extraction from liquid methane/ethane, sampling from organic 'dunes' at 95K and robust sample preparation and handling mechanisms that feed into mass analyzers are sought. Balloon instruments, such as IR spectrometers, imagers, meteorological instruments, radar sounders, solid, liquid, air sampling mechanisms for mass analyzers, and aerosol detectors are also solicited. Low mass and power sensors, mechanisms and concepts for converting terrestrial instruments such as turbidimeters and echo sounders for lake measurements, weather stations, surface (lake and solid) properties packages, etc. to cryogenic environments (95K).
  • Other Ocean Worlds targets may include Ganymede, Callisto, Ceres, etc.

 

In-situ instrumments and technologies are essential bases to achieve SMD's planetary science goals summarized in Decadal Study (National Research Council’s, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022. In-situ instruments and technologies play indispensable role for NASA’s New Frontiers and Discovery missions to various planetary bodies.

NASA SMD has two excellent programs to bring this subtopic technologies to higher level: PICASSO and MatISSE. The Planetary Instrument Concepts for the Advancement of Solar System Observations (PICASSO) Program invests in low-TRL technologies and funds instrument feasibility studies, concept formation, proof-of-concept instruments, and advanced component technology. The Maturation of Instruments for Solar System Exploration (MatISSE) Program invests in mid-TRL technologies and enables timely and efficient infusion of technology into planetary science missions. The PICASSO and MatISSE are in addition to Phase III opportunities.
 

Proposers are strongly encouraged to relate their proposed development to:

 

  • NASA's future Ocean Worlds exploration goals
  • Existing flight instrument capability, to provide a comparison metric for assessing proposed improvements

 

Proposed instrument architectures should be as simple, reliable, and low risk as possible while enabling compelling science. Novel instrument concepts are encouraged particularly if they enable a new class of scientific discovery. Technology developments relevant to multiple environments and platforms are also desired.


Proposers should show an understanding of relevant space science needs and present a feasible plan to fully develop a technology and infuse it into a NASA program.  The expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) range at completion of the project is 3-5.

 

References

 

 

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