NTRS - NASA Technical Reports Server

Back to Results
Multiplex gas chromatography: an alternative concept for gas chromatographic analysis of planetary atmospheresGas chromatography (GC) is a powerful technique for analyzing gaseous mixtures. Applied to the earth's atmosphere, GC can be used to determine the permanent gases--such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen--and to analyze organic pollutants in air. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has used GC in spacecraft missions to Mars (the Viking Biology Gas Exchange Experiment [GEX] and the Viking Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer [GC-MS]) and to Venus (the Pioneer Venus Gas Chromatograph [PVGC] on board the Pioneer Venus sounder probe) for determining the atmospheric constituents of these two planets. Even though conventional GC was very useful in the Viking and Pioneer missions, spacecraft constraints and limitations intrinsic to the technique prevented the collection of more samples. With the Venus probe, for instance, each measurement took a relatively long time to complete (10 min), and successive samples could not be introduced until the previous samples had left the column. Therefore, while the probe descended through the Venusian atmosphere, only three samples were acquired at widely separated altitudes. With the Viking mission, the sampling rate was not a serious problem because samples were acquired over a period of one year. However, the detection limit was a major disadvantage. The GC-MS could not detect simple hydrocarbons and simple alcohols below 0.1 ppm, and the GEX could not detect them below 1 ppm. For more complex molecules, the detection limits were at the parts-per-billion level for both instruments. Finally, in both the Viking and Pioneer missions, the relatively slow rate of data acquisition limited the number of analyses, and consequently, the amount of information returned. Similar constraints are expected in future NASA missions. For instance, gas chromatographic instrumentation is being developed to collect and analyze organic gases and aerosols in the atmosphere of Titan (one of Saturn's satellites). The Titan-Cassini entry probe, which is being jointly planned by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), might be launched as early as 1994. As in the Pioneer mission, limited time--perhaps only 3-4 h--will be available for the completion of all analyses while the probe descends through the atmosphere. A conventional GC or GC-MS system would be able to analyze no more than two aerosol and two gas samples during the probe's descent. Conventional GC also is limited by the sensitivity of the detector and by the sample volume. For the Titan mission, the sensitivity problems will be worse because the atmospheric pressure at the time of instrument deployment is expected to be < 3 torr. Consequently, the sample volume might not be large enough to satisfy the detector sensitivity requirements. Because of such limitations, alternative GC analysis techniques have been investigated for future NASA missions. Multiplex gas chromatography has been investigated as a possible candidate for chemical analysis within a spacecraft or other restricted environment, and chemical modulators have been developed and used when needed with this technique to reduce the size and weight of the instrumentation. Also, several new multiplex techniques have been developed for use in specific applications.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Valentin, J. R. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field CA United States)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
March 1, 1989
Publication Information
Publication: LC GC : magazine of liquid and gas chromatography
Volume: 7
Issue: 3
ISSN: 0888-9090
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Distribution Limits
NASA Discipline Number 52-50
NASA Discipline Exobiology
NASA Program Exobiology