You are here

In Situ Instruments and Instrument Components for Planetary Science


Scope Title:

In Situ Instruments and Instrument Components for Planetary Science

Scope Description:

This subtopic solicits development of instruments and instrument components suitable for deployment on in situ planetary missions. To narrow the critical gaps between the current state of art and the technology needed for the ever-increasing science and exploration requirements, in situ technologies are being sought to increase instrument resolution and sensitivity and/or reduce mass, power, and volume as well as increase data rates without loss of scientific capability. Of particular interest are technologies to support future missions described in the National Research Council Planetary Decadal Survey report "Origin, Worlds, and Life: A Decadal Strategy for Planetary Science and Astrobiology 2023-2032" (hereafter referred to as the Planetary Decadal Survey). Proposers should show an understanding of relevant space science needs, present a feasible plan to fully develop a technology, and infuse it into a NASA program. Proposers should provide a comparison metric for assessing proposed improvements compared to existing flight instrument capabilities.


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.


The proposed 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.


Specifically, this year this subtopic solicits instruments and instrument components that provide significant advances in the following areas: 

  • Technologies relevant to detection and/or identification of organic molecules (including biomolecules), salts, and/or minerals at Mars, ocean worlds, and other bodies. Examples include high-resolution gas or liquid chromatographs, miniaturized mass spectrometers and their drive electronics (e.g., radio-frequency (RF) tanks) and front-end/back-end advancements (e.g., electrospray ionization sources, lasers, ion mobility sources/separators, RF guides/funnels, pumps), isotope analyzers, dust detectors, organic analysis instruments with chiral discrimination, x-ray spectrometers, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, electrochemical methods, nanopore technologies, etc.) These developments should be geared towards analyzing and handling very small sample sizes (microgram to milligram) and/or low column densities/abundances.
  • Imagers and spectrometers and the associated components that provide high performance in low-light environments (visible and near-infrared (NIR) imaging spectrometers, thermal imagers, etc.)
  • Instruments capable of monitoring the bulk chemical composition and physical characteristics of gas samples and ice particles such as the plume (density, velocity, variation with time, etc.).
  • Seismometers, mass analyzers, heat flow probes, and trace gas detectors with improved robustness and high-g-force survivability that are applicable to impactor deployment to planetary surfaces.
  • Sensors, instruments, components, and technologies for operation in extreme-environment conditions (e.g., temperature, pressure, radiation) such as Venus and Europa.
  • Technologies for quantifying lunar water and measuring the D/H ratio in lunar water and other solar system destinations.
  • Flight qualifiable low-SWaP (size, weight, and power) laser systems applicable to quantum accelerometers using cold-Cs-based atom interferometers. Of particular interest is an integrated 850-nm laser system complete with control and electronics that produce >150 mW of total usable laser power with <20 W of DC power consumption in a <2-liter package. The laser systems should meet typical requirements of Raman-based light-pulse atom interferometers (linewidth 100 kHz, long-term frequency stability, two controllable laser frequency outputs of 10 GHz apart, ~µs switching time, -60 dB extinction, amplitude control (arbitrary waveform capable preferred), frequency tuning >2 GHz, and others. Offerors should consult papers in open literature of typical atom interferometer laser control requirements).
  • Technologies that allow sample collection during high-speed (>1-km/sec) passes through plumes and can maximize total sample mass collected while passing through tenuous plumes. This includes systems and subsystems capable of capture, containment, and/or transfer of gas, liquid, ice, and/or mineral phases from plumes to sample processing and/or instrument interfaces, such as cold double-walled isolators for sample manipulation at -80 ºC and Biohazard Safety Level (BSL)-4 conditions. This fly-through sampling focus is distinct from S13.01, which solicits sample collection technologies from surface platforms.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 3 to 5

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 08 Sensors and Instruments
  • Level 2 08.3 In-Situ Instruments/Sensor

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Prototype
  • Hardware

Desired Deliverables Description:

The Phase I project should focus on feasibility and proof-of-concept demonstration (TRL 2-3). The required Phase I deliverable is a report documenting the proposed innovation, its status at the end of the Phase I effort, and the evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses compared to the state of the art. The report can include a feasibility assessment and concept of operations, simulations and/or measurements, and a plan for further development to be performed in Phase II. 


The Phase II project should focus on component and/or breadboard development with the delivery of specific hardware for NASA (TRL 4-5). Phase II deliverables include a working prototype of the proposed hardware, along with documentation of development, capabilities, and measurements.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

In situ instruments and technologies are essential bases to achieve Science Mission Directorate's (SMD's) planetary science goals summarized in the Planetary Decadal Survey. There are currently various in situ instruments for diverse planetary bodies. However, there are ever-increasing science and exploration requirements and challenges for diverse planetary bodies. For example, there are urgent needs for the exploration of icy or liquid surfaces on Europa, Enceladus, Titan, Ganymede, Callisto, etc., and plumes from planetary bodies such as Enceladus as well as a growing demand for in situ technologies amenable to small spacecraft.


To narrow the critical gaps between the current state of art and the technology needed for the ever-increasing science/exploration requirements, in situ technologies are being sought to achieve much higher resolution and sensitivity with significant improvements over existing capabilities with lower mass, power, volume, and data rate.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

In situ instruments and technologies are essential bases to achieve the SMD's planetary science goals summarized in the Planetary Decadal Survey. In situ instruments and technologies play an indispensable role for NASA’s New Frontiers and Discovery missions to various planetary bodies.


In addition to Phase III opportunities, SMD offers several instrument development programs as paths to further development and maturity. These include the Planetary Instrument Concepts for the Advancement of Solar System Observations (PICASSO) Program, which invests in low-TRL technologies and funds instrument feasibility studies, concept formation, proof-of-concept instruments, and advanced component technology, as well as the Maturation of Instruments for Solar System Exploration (MatISSE) Program and the Development and Advancement of Lunar Instrumentation (DALI) Program, which invest in mid-TRL technologies and enable timely and efficient infusion of technology into planetary science missions.


US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government