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Evaluating the robustness of the enantioselective stationary phases on the Rosetta mission against space vacuum vaporization

  • Meierhenrich, Uwe J.
  • Cason, Julie R. L.
  • Szopa, Cyril
  • Sternberg, Robert
  • Raulin, François
  • Thiemann, Wolfram H.-P.
  • Goesmann, Fred
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2013
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The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission was launched in March 2004 in order to reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by August 2014. The Cometary Sampling and Composition experiment (COSAC) onboard the Rosetta mission's lander "Philae" has been designed for the cometary in situ detection and quantification of organic molecules using gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The GC unit of COSAC is equipped with eight capillary columns that will each provide a specific stationary phase for molecular separation. Three of these stationary phases can be used to chromatographically resolve enantiomers, as they are composed of liquid polymers of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to which chiral valine or cyclodextrin units are attached. Throughout the ten years of Rosetta's journey through space to reach comet 67P, these liquid stationary phases have been exposed to space vacuum, as the capillary columns within the COSAC unit were not sealed or filled with carrier gas. Long term exposures to space vacuum can cause damage to such liquid stationary phases as key monomers, volatiles, and chiral selectors can be vaporized and lost in transit. We have therefore exposed identical spare units of COSAC's chiral stationary phases over eight years to vacuum conditions mimicking those experienced in space and we have now investigated their resolution capabilities towards different enantiomers both before and after exposure to space vacuum environments. We have observed that enantiomeric resolution capabilities of these chiral liquid enantioselective stationary phases has not been affected by exposure to space vacuum conditions. Thus we conclude that the three chiral stationary phases of the COSAC experiment onboard the Rosetta mission lander "Philae" can be considered to have maintained their resolution capacities throughout their journey prior to cometary landing in November 2014.

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