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Miniaturizing Mass Spectrometry (VCAM GC-MS) & Next Generation Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometers (SAM GC-MS)
Above: The International Space Station is becoming an increasingly busy platform for studying our home planet.

Mass Spectrometry

NASA considers the mass spectrometer as one of the instruments to be included in the payload of many planetary missions for in situ analysis. Developments in the Microdevices Laboratory (MDL) have found a completely different application, checking the quality of the cabin air for human spaceflight.

In the mid-1970s the two NASA Viking missions to Mars achieved a technological near-miracle. Each of the landers had as part of its instrument suite, a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC-MS). At that time, in analytical laboratories such an instrument was still considered a very sophisticated, only recently-developed addition to the toolkit. So, to have miniaturized and ruggedized the device so that it could be safely landed at operate successfully was a prodigious feat. Those instruments and their successors have been used for planetary exploration. However, the same instrument can be used for a completely different purpose, ensuring that the atmosphere they breathe is safe for astronauts. MDL technology has enabled an equally miraculous reduction in size now that is truly breath-taking.

Mass Spectrometry

Products & Processes

Image from MDL Core Competency Project: VCAM GC-MS


Vehicle Cabin Atmosphere Monitor (VCAM) identified gases that are present in minute quantities in the International Space Station, breathing air that could harm the crew's health. If successful, instruments like VCAM...

Image from MDL Core Competency Project: SAM GC-MS


Recent years have witnessed significant progress made in the miniaturization of mass spectrometers for a variety of field applications. The main focus at JPL is on the two most common space related applications of mass...

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