Development of analytical instrumentation for future planetary exploration missions
Department: School of Physics and Astronomy
Application deadline: 5 April 2023
Start date: 1 May 2023
Ian Hutchinson and Hannah Lerman
Molecular spectroscopy is a valuable planetary surface science tool, particularly in the search for signs of past or present life. Indeed, the most recent Mars rovers developed by ESA and NASA carry infrared and Raman spectrometers that enable information on the molecular composition of surface materials to be rapidly determined. Raman spectroscopy is a powerful, laser based scattering technique that has been included on both the ExoMars and the NASA Perseverance rover missions. The instrument development programmes associated with those programmes has also led to the serious consideration of similar spectrometers for NASA’s potential Europa Lander mission (which focuses on determining the habitability of the moon by verifying the presence of an ocean and characterising its properties); and a range of different potential lunar missions, including the development of a handheld multi-spectroscopy instrument for use by astronaut on the moon (currently under development through the ESA lunar PANGAEA programme).
Previous Europa missions have revealed clear evidence of subsurface oceans most likely sustained by tidal heating and the dynamic radiation environment, and magnetospheric models of the Jovian system suggest a large amount of organic chemistry that has been driven by particles accelerated in Jupiter's magnetic field. This environment likely satisfies the critical requirements for life as we know it. Raman spectrometers provide an ideal analytical technique for identifying molecular signatures associated with these processes. However, the same radiation environment that may support hidden biological processes also pose a threat to mission payloads. High particle irradiances can affect the performance of both detectors and electronic components, significantly reducing the overall instrument performance and reliability. Consequently, it is important to fully model the physical processes involved in order to understand and account for the impact that they will have on the overall scientific capability of the payload.
Similarly, recent instrument development has focussed on both the miniaturisation and combination of analytical instrumentation for a greater scientific return; e.g., the development in handheld form of spectrometers for geological characterisation during planetary exploration. An example of such an activity is the European Space Agency’s lunar PANGAEA programme in which the team at Leicester (alongside collaborators in Spain and Canada) are designing and constructing, with commercial components, a fully-operational, integrated breadboard instrument for human exploration on the moon. The output of this activity could lead to the development of handheld flight hardware for astronauts to use on the moon.
Specifically, the team at Leicester is developing a handheld breadboard that is a Raman spectrometer combined with an X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer and a visible camera. The two analytical channels (i.e., Raman & XRF) provide complementary (co-aligned) scientific information (i.e., molecular and elemental information) and contextual information is provided by the imaging camera. For such an instrument to work optimally, it is necessary to demonstrate (in the form of both a breadboard and via performance models) that the three systems can be readily integrated into a single breadboard that benefits from shared resources (i.e., sub-systems such as detector FEE, thermal controllers and data processing unit).
This project involves the development, build and testing of a new instrument concept that would be suitable for rapid elemental and molecular characterisation of surface material during future missions, such as to Europa or the moon. The work builds on an ongoing prototype development collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, INTA and ESA, and will involve the verification of instrument performance pre and post irradiation, using a range of recently commissioned characterisation facilities.
Specifically, the proposed research activities include:
• modelling of radiation environments (lunar and Europa),
• development of instrument requirements (from analysis of mission science goals),
• end-to-end instrument performance modelling,
• prototype instrument design, build and test (focusing on combination of infrared, Raman and XRF sub-systems), and
• pre- and post- irradiation characterisation (of instrument and analogue samples).
• M. McHugh, IB. Hutchinson, H. Lerman, HGM Edwards, R Ingley, “The development and testing of a prototype Raman spectrometer for the ExoMars mission”, JRS, 2021
• Lambert J, Vu T, Wang A, Tallarida N, Edwards P, Monacos P, Spring J, Hovik W, Hutchinson I, Lerman H, et al. Adapting the Compact Integrated Raman Spectrometer (CIRS) for the Europa Lander Mission Concept AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts. 2020. Dec 2020
• Tallarida N, Edwards P, Lambert J, Hutchinson I, McHugh M, Lerman H, Wang A. PROTON IRRADIATION TESTS OF LASERS FOR INSTRUMENTATION ON ICY MOON MISSIONS 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, 2019
• Rull, F., Maurice, S., Hutchinson, I., Moral, A., Perez, C., Diaz, C., . . . on behalf of the RLS Team. (2017). The Raman Laser Spectrometer for the ExoMars Rover Mission to Mars. Astrobiology. doi:10.1089/ast.2016.1567
• Wang A, Lambert JL, Hutchinson I, Monacos S, McHugh M, Wei J, Yan YC. Two High Performance In Situ Raman Spectrometers for Landed Planetary Missions 3rd International Workshop on Instrumentation for Planetary Mission, 2016
• Hutchinson IB, Ingley R, Edwards HGM, Harris L, McHugh M, Malherbe C, Parnell J. Raman spectroscopy on Mars: Identification of geological and bio-geological signatures in Martian analogues using miniaturized Raman spectrometers Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 2014
3.5 year studentships comprising:
- UK Tuition Fees
- Stipend currently £17,668 per year
Entry requirementsApplicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Masters Degree 2:1 or better in Physics.
The University of Leicester English language requirements apply
Experience designing and optimising analytical instruments for space missions.
Informal enquiriesEnquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
How to apply
How to apply
To apply, please use the 'Apply' button at the bottom of the page and select May 2023 from the dropdown menu.
With your application, please include:
- Personal statement explaining your interest in the project, your experience and why we should consider you
- Degree Certificates and Transcripts of study already completed and if possible transcript to date of study currently being undertaken
- Evidence of English language proficiency if applicable
- In the reference section please enter the contact details of your two academic referees in the boxes provided or upload letters of reference if already available.
- In the funding section select studentship and state: Physics Hutchinson Studentship
- In the proposal section please provide the name of the project supervisors and project title (a proposal is not required)