Ramachandran, A. V., Nazarious, M. I., Mathanlal, T., Zorzano, M. P., Martín Torres, J. (2020). Space Environmental Chamber for Planetary Studies. Sensors, 20, 14 DOI: 10.3390/s20143996
We describe a versatile simulation chamber that operates under representative space conditions (pressures from < 10(-5) mbar to ambient and temperatures from 163 to 423 K), the SpaceQ chamber. This chamber allows to test instrumentation, procedures, and materials and evaluate their performance when exposed to outgassing, thermal vacuum, low temperatures, baking, dry heat microbial reduction (DHMR) sterilization protocols, and water. The SpaceQ is a cubical stainless-steel chamber of 27,000 cm(3) with a door of aluminum. The chamber has a table which can be cooled using liquid nitrogen. The chamber walls can be heated (for outgassing, thermal vacuum, or dry heat applications) using an outer jacket. The chamber walls include two viewports and 12 utility ports (KF, CF, and Swagelok connectors). It has sensors for temperature, relative humidity, and pressure, a UV-VIS-NIR spectrometer, a UV irradiation lamp that operates within the chamber as well as a stainless-steel syringe for water vapor injection, and USB, DB-25 ports to read the data from the instruments while being tested inside. This facility has been specifically designed for investigating the effect of water on the Martian surface. The core novelties of this chamber are: (1) its ability to simulate the Martian near-surface water cycle by injecting water multiple times into the chamber through a syringe which allows to control and monitor precisely the initial relative humidity inside with a sensor that can operate from vacuum to Martian pressures and (2) the availability of a high-intensity UV lamp, operating from vacuum to Martian pressures, within the chamber, which can be used to test material curation, the role of the production of atmospheric radicals, and the degradation of certain products like polymers and organics. For illustration, here we present some applications of the SpaceQ chamber at simulated Martian conditions with and without atmospheric water to (i) calibrate the ground temperature sensor of the Engineering Qualification Model of HABIT (HabitAbility: Brines, Irradiation and Temperature) instrument, which is a part of ExoMars 2022 mission. These tests demonstrate that the overall accuracy of the temperature retrieval at a temperature between -50 and 10 degrees C is within 1.3 degrees C and (ii) investigate the curation of composite materials of Martian soil simulant and binders, with added water, under Martian surface conditions under dry and humid conditions. Our studies have demonstrated that the regolith, when mixed with super absorbent polymer (SAP), water, and binders exposed to Martian conditions, can form a solid block and retain more than 80% of the added water, which may be of interest to screen radiation while maintaining a low weight.