Calibration and preliminary tests of the Brine Observation Transition To Liquid Experiment on HABIT/ExoMars 2020 for demonstration of liquid water stability on Mars

Nazarious, M. I., Ramachadran, A. V., Zorzano, M. P., Martín Torres, J. 2019. Calibration and preliminary tests of the Brine Observation Transition To Liquid Experiment on HABIT/ExoMars 2020 for demonstration of liquid water stability on Mars. Acta Astronautica 162, 497-510 DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2019.06.026

The search for unequivocal proofs of liquid water on present day Mars is a prominent domain of research with implications on habitability and future Mars exploration. The HABIT (Habitability: Brines, Irradiation, and Temperature) instrument that will be on-board the ExoMars 2020 Surface Platform (ESA-IKI Roscosmos) will investigate the habitability of present day Mars, monitoring temperature, winds, dust conductivity, ultraviolet radiation and liquid water formation. One of the components of HABIT is the experiment BOTTLE (Brine Observation Transition To Liquid Experiment). The purposes of BOTTLE are to: (1) quantify the formation of transient liquid brines; (2) observe their stability over time under non-equilibrium conditions; and (3) serve as an In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology demonstrator for water moisture capture. In this manuscript, we describe the calibration procedure of BOTTLE with standard concentrations of brines, the calibration function and the coefficients needed to interpret the observations on Mars.

BOTTLE consists of six containers: four of them are filled with different deliquescent salts that have been found on Mars (calcium-perchlorate, magnesium-perchlorate, calcium-chloride, and sodium-perchlorate); and two containers that are open to the air, to collect atmospheric dust. The salts are exposed to the Martian environment through a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter (to comply with planetary protection protocols). The deliquescence process will be monitored by observing the changes in electrical conductivity (EC) in each container: dehydrated salts show low EC, hydrated salts show medium EC and, liquid brines show high EC values. We report and interpret the preliminary test results using the BOTTLE engineering model in representative conditions; and we discuss how this concept can be adapted to other exploration missions.

Our laboratory observations show that 1.2 g of anhydrous calcium-chloride captures about 3.7 g of liquid water as brine passing through various possible hydrate forms. This ISRU technology could potentially be the first attempt to understand the formation of transient liquid water on Mars and to develop self-sustaining in-situ water harvesting on Mars for future human and robotic missions.

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