Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Michael J. Taylor


Michael J. Taylor


Erik A. Syrstad


JR Dennison


Ludger Scherliess


Charles M. Swenson


In-situ composition measurements of the mesosphere/lower thermosphere (MLT) are challenging; this region is only accessible via high-speed sounding rockets, ambient pressures extend into the 10-3 Torr range, and particles of interest range in mass from electrons to meteoric smoke and dust particles. Time-of-flight mass spectrometers (TOF-MS) are capable of making fast, accurate measurements over a wide mass range. However, since they rely on pressure-sensitive microchannel plate (MCP) detectors and high voltages, they have rarely been applied at these altitudes. A new TOF-MS for making in-situ composition measurements in the MLT has been developed at the Space Dynamics Laboratory. This instrument employs modest acceleration potentials and a pressure-tolerant MCP detector. A Bradbury-Nielsen gate is used to produce short, well-defined ion pulses to reduce the temporal and spatial uncertainty of sampled ions. A prototype TOF-MS was constructed and used to demonstrate TOF-MS technology under conditions relevant to in-situ MLT measurements. Operational boundaries and capabilities of this new instrument were identified through laboratory experiments combined with computer modeling. The prototype instrument achieved a maximum resolution of 100 at m/z 40 (Ar), sufficient to resolve major atmospheric species of interest. During experiments at elevated pressures, the MCP detector maintained low background count rates (/second) at pressures as high as 10-3 Torr. A novel getter-based vacuum system was evaluated for use with the new TOF-MS, and a computer model was developed to simulate instrument pressure during a rocket flight. Results from these experiments suggest that when combined with an appropriately sized sampling aperture, this pumping system can extend the measurement range of the instrument to lower altitudes by 10 – 20 km, compared to an unpumped instrument. A computer model was developed to study the effects of critical operating parameters on instrument performance; the most important factor affecting resolution was found to be the initial energy spread of sampled ions. Sensitivity and number density measurement analyses suggest the new instrument will measure major species in the MLT at better than 10% uncertainty. Composition measurements made with the new TOF-MS will contribute to a better understanding of the MLT.