Flight History

History of quartz crystal microbalance development for space


The development of quartz crystal microbalances (QCMs) for space occurred under the name of Celesco in 1966. The product line was purchased by Telonic Berkeley and subsequently by QCM Research, of Laguna Beach, California, in 1985. Donald Wallace, the founder of QCM Research, who was instrumental to the beginning of QCM development in 1966 continued to improve and enhance QCM products. He served over twenty years on the ASTM E-21 Committee on Space Contamination and is the author of numerous papers on this subject and on the subject of QCM technology. Scott Wallace now serves as president of the company.

History of research and development work with QCM systems

The first Celesco QCM produced was for a momentum flux experiment with plasma flow in 1966, for which Dr. David Hall was the principal investigator at TRW. We soon realized that QCMs could be used for the detection of molecular flux both in ground-based vacuum systems and in space, and began developing QCM systems more extensively.

This first endeavor resulted in a Cryogenic Densitometer using a crystal at 20 Kelvin on board a Saturn rocket to measure the density of N2 at extremely high altitudes. Early QCM Sensor heads, models MK 1 through MK 7, were developed for NASA Marshall and McDonnell Douglas in 1971 and 1972 for the Skylab program, ATM, and AM/EREP, and for Air Force Satellites through Lockheed Missiles and Space and Aerojet Corporation.

At that point, it became clear that the concept needed to be developed in various stages. First to come was a standard QCM, the MK 9 QCM Sensor, with a temperature range from 80K to 373K, or to 10K with a Low Temperature Hybrid Chip. Second, a smaller, passive, cryogenic version of the QCM that would operate over the range of temperature from 5K to 398K was added: the MK 8 QCM, winner of the IR-100 award, later our MK 15 QCM, and ultimately, the MK 16 CQCM. In this QCM, which has since evolved into several variations (MK 17 through MK 19), the crystals can be raised in temperature by means of a built-in heater for the QTGA (QCM Thermogravimetric Analysis) operational mode, while the heat sink remains cold. Thirdly, a thermoelectrically-cooled TQCM was designed and built with a temperature range from 80K to 373K, for use in a materials lab or in space-flight: the MK 10 TQCM. Recently, a new series of TQCMs, called the MK 24 TQCM series, has been released, which has a much smaller profile than the MK 10, and also extends the range of mass detection by using up to 25MHz crystals.

Our most recent additions to the QCM line are the MK 21 QCM, a miniature passive heating and cooling QCM which evolved from the highly successful MK8 design.

QCM Technology

The circuitry that is used in the sensor heads has been hybridized to a TO-5 size since 1970, when it was first used on the Skylab flight. Since then, we have developed a cryogenic low-temperature chip, also in the TO-5 size, which goes down in temperature to 5K and dissipates only 2.45mw of power (useful when a cold heat sink has a limited amount of time, and when only a limited amount of cooling is available). Contained in the circuit are two oscillators and a mixer for driving the crystals, combining the two frequencies and ending up with a beat frequency which is indicative of the mass that has been added to or subtracted from the sense crystal. The Hybrid Chip has been environmentally flight-qualified and has performed successfully in space; for instance, for a continuous period of six years with the LDEF QCMs.

Current Position

For space-flight use, we can provide our MK 10, 20, 24, and 26 TQCMs, and our MK 16, 17, 18 and 19 CQCMs with provision for QCM Thermogravimetric Analysis. Although without flight-history, our newly-developed MK 20, MK 21 and MK 24 have been designed to well-established flight standards.

We can provide you with a M3000 Flight Controller, which will control and collect data from independent QCMs to your computer system. Documentation on this unit includes vibration (both random and sinusoidal), shock, EMC and thermal cycling.

The Model 2000 Control/Data Acquisition Unit can be used for controlling up to twelve QCMs of any combination of the various sensor models through the RS232 port of your lab computer.

We are also now able to provide the Vacuum Outgassing/Deposition Kinetics Apparatus (VODKA) as a turn-key unit. This high-vacuum apparatus has three or four MK 18 QCMs, an Effusion Cell, and optionally, a Mass Spectrometer and Krypton lamps, to characterize the various outgassing products, as a function of temperature, from a sample material that is destined for space use. This apparatus conforms with ASTM E 1559-93 which complements ASTM E595.

For those customers who need higher mass sensitivity and yet want to keep the stability and proven technology of QCM Research’s QCM sensors, we have higher frequencies now available. Standard frequencies now are 3, 5, 10, 15 and 25 MHz. Custom projects can use frequencies from 100 MHz on up.

Flight history of QCM systems

After the early-model flight QCMs, our next involvement came in 1977, when we played a successful role in the development of the Ariane Vehicle, supplying our MK 9 QCMs to both CNES (France) and Aeritalia (Italy).

We were the co-investigators with Drs. R. Schall and E. Borson of Aerospace, supplying the MK9 QCMs and flight electronics for the LDEF Mission, launched by the Space Shuttle in 1978. We also supplied QCM systems for the same LDEF flight to MBB in Germany. For this experiment, atomic oxygen flux impinged on two leading edge QCMs, whose crystals were overcoated with Zinc Sulfide and Indium Oxide, while identical QCMs were protected from flux. We have six years of data from this flight and are in the process of analyzing it now.

We supplied two MK 10 TQCMs and a Signal Processor on-board Hughes Aircraft Company’s Ion Propulsion experiment on the P-80 satellite in 1978, and two MK 10 TQCMs and a Flight Electronics Unit on the IAPS P-80 experiment for Hughes Space and Communications Division.

The European Space Agency contracted for the ECS-1 flight with three MK 9 QCMs in 1981.

In 1984, Dornier Aircraft Co. wanted to obtain thorough control of the contamination on their Rosat IR satellite. Our QCMs had to continuously monitor for any contamination, from the initial machining of the telescope to the assembly, fitup, installation in the satellite and finally, on-board monitoring throughout the flight.

A second flight contract with Hughes SCD provided four MK 10 TQCMs and a Flight Electronics Unit for the MMB2 Air Force Satellite in 1988.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) placed two of our MK 16 CQCMs on the End Effector (hand) of the Remote Manipulator System (arm) on-board Shuttle Flight STS-52 and several follow-on flights. The QCMs had a layer of material placed on the surface which was sensitive to the presence of atomic oxygen (O) so that the highly reducing atmosphere would, in effect, etch off the deposited material and cause the beat frequency to decrease. When CSA determined that they had finished with the experiment, NASA Johnson then directed the astronauts to explore the region that the arm could reach for contamination, specifically in the vicinity of the plume. In 1995, on a follow-on flight (STS-74)), the same configuration was used when the shuttle positioned itself close to the Russian 13kg attitude control and reboost thrusters on the MIR Space Station to have the QCMs detect both transient and persistent surface contamination. NASA is continuing to use the QCMs on the arm to measure erosion rates by atomic oxygen in their Space Shuttle flights.

In 1993, we provided the Applied Physics Laboratories of the Johns Hopkins University with four MK 10 TQCMs, one MK 16 CQCM (for QTGA) and a Flight Electronics Unit for use on the Spirit III Satellite, called the MSX Experiment, launched in 1996.

That same year we completed a contract with TRW to supply four MK 10 TQCMs and a Flight Electronics Unit to fly in early 1994. The flight is the US Air Force’s Plasma Jet flight, Electric Propulsion Space Experiment (ESEX).

We supplied the MK 17 CQCMs for the Space Active Modular Materials Experiment (SAMMES) from 1994 through 1997. This will eventually lead to twelve modular contamination units which may be attached to any available shuttle for affordable and frequent access to space for on-orbit testing of materials.

T&M Engineering, working in conjunction with the ESA, placed two of our MK 19 CQCMs on the Crystal Module of the Russian MIR Space Station in late 1995 to monitor contamination. The flight electronics unit is based on our standard M2000 Controller.

We provided MK 9 QCMs to Dornier for ESA’s Ariane 5 project, which launched in 1996 and 1997. These, and all succeeding flights, will have QCMs both inside the payload area and attached to the skin.

On a recent interplanetary flight project, NASA Pathfinder Spacecraft, the Mars Rover has a MK 19 CQCM with the same field of view as the solar panel. The QCM has a sticky polymer on the surface to collect and measure small dust particles that land on the solar collector.

For the Ariane/ STENTOR flight, we provided Aerospatiale with two customized MK 17 CQCMs which will be used to measure the erosion rate of selected materials, placed on the crystals of the QCMs, impacted by an ion thruster.

Other flights we were involved with include Mighty SAT 2 with Edwards AFB, as well as projects for Boeing, NASA, JAXA, EADS  and others.

In addition to space flight systems, we have supplied our customers throughout the world with a wide variety of QCM systems for ground-based facilities and experiments.

QCM RESEARCH is a small business concern specializing in customized QCM Systems and as such, we are ready to reply to your QCM needs.