compact-PTR-TOF-MS - Development of a Compact Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer for Suborbital Research on the Earth's Atmospheric Composition

Short Description

One of NASA’s strategic goals is to advance Earth systems science to meet the challenges of climate and environmental change. DISCOVER-AQ (Deriving Information on Surface Conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality) is a multi-year NASA campaign aimed at improving the use of satellites to monitor air quality ( As part of DISCOVER-AQ, NASA deploys two airborne science platforms for remote and in-situ measurements of atmospheric pollutants over selected areas in the US affected by poor air quality.

A research team of the University of Innsbruck was selected to join the DISCOVER-AQ mission to carry out in-situ measurements of atmospheric trace hydrocarbons on board NASA’s P-3B Airborne Science Laboratory using the Proton-Transfer-Reaction Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS) technology developed in Austria. PTR-MS data provide important information on air pollution sources and processes used to improve the interpretation of space-borne observations of air pollutants by current and future satellites.

In this project supported by the Aeronautics and Space Agency of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, a consortium composed of the University of Innsbruck and Ionicon Analytik (Innsbruck) developed, constructed and validated a compact PTR-TOF-MS instrument for deployment on NASA’s airborne science platforms.

The time-of-flight (TOF) capability enables continuous measurements of atmospheric hydrocarbons with 1-second time resolution, thus making a ground-breaking contribution to atmospheric composition research, increasing data coverage and improving time resolution by an order of magnitude over previously deployed sensors. In addition, the prototype provides a reduction in size and weight as compared to existing instruments.

The new instrument is scheduled for deployment in NASA’s upcoming DISCOVER-AQ missions and is anticipated to create new commercial opportunities for Ionicon Analytik.

Project Partners


University of Innsbruck, Institute for Ion Physics and Applied Physics - Armin Wisthaler


Ionicon Analytik Gesellschaft m.b.H.

Contact Address

University of Innsbruck - Institute for Ion Physics and Applied Physics
Armin Wisthaler
Technikerstraße 25
A-6020 Innsbruck
Tel.: +43 (512) 507 - 6241