Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Desert RATS - Day 4 - Team complete!

VAPoR is running very smoothly, no pump or SMS hick-ups anymore and the instrument seems to be happy. We tried cooling the oven with an extra fan, but analysis of the cool-down data teaches us that the only measurable effect is more dust inside the SMS. Oven cool down is ~180 mins and we will have to live with that. 

Today was marked by several highlights, starting with a dust storm carrying in Danny Glavin (VAPoR PI).

This marked the only day that the full VAPoR Desert RATS team is out in the field. Heather is hovering between us, making our science decisions and plugging the importance of VAPoR in this test at the Science Back Room NASA Johnson Space Flight Center, where the science decisions are made.

Unfortunately, we were only complete for about an hour, with Erik and Charles heading out again. Not without being interviewed by the Desert RATS film crew, though!

Here some pictures of the interview. As soon as the interview is ready, it will appear here too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Desert RATS - Day 2/3 - first sample!

The second day started good, pump turned on, no strange overheating anymore, pressure (eventually) down to workable values (10^-6 mbar), so to make sure VAPoR stays happy we decorated it again with some lucky charms. This year the theme is Dutch wooden shoes.

Another close up of the SMS, wrapped up in foil to prevent dust from creeping in. It is not as dusty as it was in Hawaii, but still we have small dust devils outside as well as inside our tent.

The wooden shoes seem to work. Tuesday no problems with the pump anymore and we ran our first blank, which looked fine. Today, Wednesday we ran our first real sample. Looks fine too. And an interesting result right away. We got a large amount of CO2 evolving while we assumed the sample was only basalt. Our science team member in Houston, Heather Franz confirmed that the sample contained not only basalt but small vesicles filled with carbonate. Great! It's always a good start to confirm an observation.

Another interesting point of running VAPoR in the heat though (it is about 100F/38°C during the day: it takes nearly 6 hours to cool down the oven instead of the usual 1 in the lab. So far we'll only get 1sample a day, but we will have to come up with something there. (The main supply of ice for the camp is right next to use, but not too sure if the electronics will appreciate and ice bath...).

Desert RATS - Day 2/3 - Quick overview of the campaign

The area where we are located varies quite a bit from green (with lovely yellow flowers) and full of pine trees - to very desert like at the actual site.

An overview of the site, on the edge of the lava flow. Very dry compared to the area closer to Flagstaff, we are 40 miles out. VAPoR lives in the big tent in the middle of the picture.

This video explains what Desert RATS is:

The current scenario is as follows: 
A crew consisting of 2 astronauts and 2 geologist goes out with a rover. They test different scenarios of extra vehicular activities, including sample collection. Samples are then brought bake to the GeoLab in the Habitat Demonstration Unit/Deep Space Habitat (HDU/DSH).

A second crew of same composition resides in the DSH (and even sleeps there for two nights). They accept the samples and analyze them in collaboration with the scientist in the science team at JSC, Houston and the scientists here in the field. The HDU/DSH is the white construction in the middle of the picture below. 

Specially for VAPoR one sample is collected in an organically clean way - using gloves or aluminum foil to pick up the sample and storing them in an aluminum foil bag, to prevent any contamination from hands, tools, bags and potential other factors. A fragment of this sample is then analyzed by VAPoR as a stand alone instrument in the big tent. The rest of the sample is transported into the glovebox of the DSH where it is photographed, imaged by the ASU/JPL Multispectral Microscopic Imager (MMI) and a hand held XRF (X-Ray refractometer). 

Glenn Sellar (JPL) in the GeoLab setting up the MMI for use by the crew:

One of the other experiments in the DSH - growing vegetables 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Desert RATS - Day 1 - dry run #1

First day on the site. Arrived at 9 AM to unpack the boxes, cut through Danny's bubble wrap & lots of tape artwork, and set up VAPoR.

Just a short refresher - VAPoR stands for Volatile Analysis by Pyrolysis of Regolith, and is a pyrolysis mass spectrometer or evolved gas analyzer. The concept is that small soil samples are heated in one of VAPoR's ovens to at least 1000 °C at a fixed heating rate (10, 20, or 40 °C/min). Due to this heating gases evolve from the soil. Each gas evolves at a different temperature and the composition of the gases is measured by a mass spectrometer. By plotting the gas evolution as function of temperature we get information about the composition of the sample (for more info click here).

New this time is the Sample Manipulation System (SMS), a carousel containing the ovens, built by Honeybee Robotics.

As usual a field testing campaign starts with some hick-ups. This time it was the motor of the SMS, but fortunately Erik Mumm, the Honeybee who designed and built the carousel, is also part of the team, so that was fixed pretty quickly.

Charles Malespin and Erik put together the setup, while I took care of the necessary documentation:

The remainder of the day was spent plugging VAPoR into different power sources and after some hassle, a tripped power box and a very noisy generator, we managed to find an outlet that actually worked. 

The only slight problem that still needs to be fixed is the overheating of the turbopump. Although we were promised some not too hot weather (85F/30°C), it is still getting quite warm inside our turbopump box. First goal for tomorrow - get a better fan. Hope it will be cooling off enough for us to have a "cold" start tomorrow morning.

Erik was kind enough to make sure we would remember his participation in this trip, by first locking his car keys in the trunk...

... and then killing the car tire

Fortunately, he's good at fixing things. 

Dry run #2 tomorrow! 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

VAPoR on its way to Desert RATS!

VAPoR is on the move again!

This time to participate in the NASA Desert RATS campaign: NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies.

Desert RATS takes place at the Black Point Lava Flow near Flagstaff, AZ, (image credit Jim Rice/ASU, taken from here).

This is the 14th Desert RATS campaign. The Desert RATS team will conduct integrated mission simulations to evaluate different conditions that will enable multiple destinations for future human exploration including high earth orbit, Lagrange points, the Moon, near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), Mars' moons, and ultimately the surface of Mars. The purpose of the Desert RATS 2011 field test is to provide quantitative and qualitative data to help answer key architectural questions and thereby help inform the development of NASA's Capability Driven Framework. (for more info click here).

The VAPoR-specific adventures can be followed:
Here at this blog 

Desert RATS updates can be followed on:
Desert RATS website: