Advances in Mass Spectrometers for Flyby Space Missions for the Analysis of Biosignatures and Other Complex Molecules

Fausch, Rico G; Schertenleib, Janis A; Wurz, Peter (2022). Advances in Mass Spectrometers for Flyby Space Missions for the Analysis of Biosignatures and Other Complex Molecules. Universe, 8(8), p. 416. MDPI 10.3390/universe8080416

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Spacecraft flybys provide access to the chemical composition of the gaseous envelope of the planetary object. Typical relative encounter velocities range from km/s to tens of km/s in flybys. For speeds exceeding about 5 km/s, modern mass spectrometers analyzing the rapidly encountering gas suffer from intrinsic hypervelocity impact-induced fragmentation processes causing ambiguous results when analyzing complex molecules. In this case, instruments use an antechamber, inside which the incoming species collide many times with the chamber wall. These collisions cause the desired deceleration and thermalization of the gas molecules. However, these collisions also dissociate molecular bonds, thus fragmenting the molecules, and possibly forming new ones precluding scientists from inferring the actual chemical composition of the sampled gas. We developed a novel time-of-flight mass spectrometer that handles relative encounter velocities of up to 20 km/s omitting an antechamber and its related fragmentation. It analyzes the complete mass range of m/z 1 to 1000 at an instance. This innovation leads to unambiguous analysis of complex (organic) molecules. Applied to Enceladus, Europa or Io, it will provide reliable chemical composition datasets for exploration of the Solar System to determine its status, origin and evolution.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Space Research and Planetary Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Fausch, Rico Georgio, Schertenleib, Janis Andrin, Wurz, Peter


500 Science > 530 Physics
500 Science > 520 Astronomy
600 Technology > 620 Engineering
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology








Rico Georgio Fausch

Date Deposited:

12 Aug 2022 12:10

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 16:22

Publisher DOI:





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