The Aspera Project: Mapping Intergalactic Medium

Part of NASA’s Pioneers Program, Aspera is a mission to provide greater understanding of galaxy evolution through observations of the warm-hot gas (intergalactic medium) found between galaxies. The mission will see the development and launch of a SmallSat ultraviolet space telescope. The University of Arizona is the leading institution in charge of the Aspera program with Dr. Carlos Vargas as the principal investigator and Dr. Haeun Chung as the project scientist and payload lead.

Colored gases swirling in space.
Swirling gases

The goal of the Aspera mission is detection and mapping of warm-hot phase gas around nearby galaxies. It is thought that the mass portion of the gas could be up to 50% of the matter comprising galaxies. However, this gas has been rarely observation up till now.

The Problem: Optics Sensitivity to Moisture

The resonance emission line coming from the warm-hot gas is at a far-ultraviolet wavelength (100 nm), so we need an ultraviolet telescope to see them. However, the special reflective coating on the far-UV telescope mirror is highly susceptible to moisture and humidity. If the optics are exposed, the coating reflectivity will degrade significantly.

Looking for Options: Lead Time Issues

The Aspera team initially tried purchasing desiccants from other vendors but found that lead time was a problem. However, AGM was able to meet lead time requirements.

The Solution: Molecular Sieve Desiccants

1/6 unit molecular sieve paks will be used to minimize the humidity when the coated optics are transported between the coating vendor to Tucson, Arizona.

The desiccant will be placed inside the optics shipping container along with the flight optics. Air will flow through a membrane filter between the optics and the desiccant to minimize potential particulate contamination.

Molecular sieve is comprised of a crystalline version of zeolite. The packets used in the Aspera project are constructed using Tyvek bags to prevent particulate contamination. These packets meet MIL SPEC 3464 Type I & II requirements.

Conclusion: A Better Known Universe

The successful development and launch of Aspera holds the potential to shed light on theories regarding the evolution of stars and galaxies held since the ‘70’s. Aspera is planned to launch no sooner than 2024.

Contact AGM

For help specifying the right desiccant for your needs, email AGM or call us at (520) 881-2130.