Scientific background

Our individually selected secondary mission involves collecting air samples from different altitudes in order to subsequently analyse them for trace gases. By detecting certain gases in the atmosphere, it is possible to, among other things, draw conclusions about the presence of microorganisms. What initially may seem irrelevant in the context of the CanSat competition, since no evidence is needed for life on Earth, becomes interesting in the exploration of extraterrestrial celestial bodies. A study published in 2020 on the discovery of monophosphane (PH3) in Venus' atmosphere, a substance formed by microorganisms, suggested extraterrestrial life. However, these analyses were based on telescope data and the research team's hypothesis could not be proven. With the basic idea of being able to collect gas samples from the atmospheres of other planets, in order to subsequently subject them to precise analyses, we want to simulate such a mission as a model in the CanSat competition by collecting the air samples during the fall from an altitude of up to 1000m via a pump into suitable gas collection bags.

Analysis of gas samples

For the evaluation of the collected gas samples, the Atmospheric Aerosol Research Division in the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research (IMK-AAF) of the KIT provides us with their expertise, as well as the evaluation of our samples via a proton transfer mass spectrometer. Since we will probably not receive the results during the launch campaign, we are also installing a humidity sensor. We will then take the data on relative humidity as a function of altitude into account when analysing the samples and present it during the launch campaign.

Technical implementation

To fill the gas collection bags during the fall, we use a compact and sterile air pump. Inside the probe, the air flow is distributed to three different gas containers via controllable two-way valves, filling them one after the other at different heights. Before switching to the next container in each case, the system is vented to prevent the different samples from mixing. A non-return valve per gas collection bag prevents the air from escaping from the bags again.

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