Europlanet Science Congress 2022
Palacio de Congresos de Granada, Spain
18 – 23 September 2022
Europlanet Science Congress 2022
Palacio de Congresos de Granada, Spain
18 September – 23 September 2022
EPSC Abstracts
Vol. 16, EPSC2022-790, 2022, updated on 23 Sep 2022
Europlanet Science Congress 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Calibration and performance tests of VISTA, a microbalance for asteroid dust characterization and contamination for space mission applications

Chiara Gisellu1, Fabrizio Dirri1, Ernesto Palomba1, Andrea Longobardo1, David Biondi1, Marianna Angrisani1, Emiliano Zampetti2, Diego Scaccabarozzi3, and Bortolino Saggin3
Chiara Gisellu et al.
  • 1INAF, IAPS, Rome, Italy (
  • 2CNR-IIA, Montelibretti, Italy
  • 3Politecnico di Milano, Lecco, Italy

Introduction: Quartz Crystals Microbalances (QCMs) are widely used sensors for monitoring and characterizing dust and particles deposition processes in different planetary environments and measuring material contamination coming from outgassing sources in space, in support to other instruments (e.g. spectrometers). Furthermore, they are capable of detecting and measuring the presence of volatile com-pounds of astrobiological interest such as water and organics. These measurements can be particularly relevant when performed on primitive asteroids or comets, or on targets of potential astrobiological interests, e.g. Mars [1]. These sensors convert mass changes into fundamental resonance frequency variations, according to Sauerbrey equation [2].

The VISTA (Volatile In Situ Thermogravimetry Analyser) instrument is a QCM-based device able to perform measurements of abundance of volatiles and dust particles in planetary and asteroidal environments. The instrument can characterize the planetary regolith from 5-10 µm to sub-µm particles and monitor the contamination processes on board satellites (cubesat, etc.) caused by molecular outgassing. VISTA is one of the two scientific payloads of MILANI CubeSat, developed by Tyvak International that leads a consortium composed by entities and institutions from Italy, Czech Republic and Finland, in the framework of the Hera program of the European Space Agency (ESA). Hera, due to launch in 2024, is the ESA part of the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) international collaboration with NASA, who is responsible for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) kinetic impactor spacecraft. The main objective of MILANI is the study of the binary asteroid system Didymos-Dimorphos, characterizing the asteroid with a dust sensor (VISTA) and a spectrometer (ASPECT).

In this work, the calibration operations and the performance tests, to assess VISTA capability of characterizing volatile compounds and simulant contaminations in vacuum chamber at low temperatures. The sensor has been developed by an Italian Consortium composed by three Research Institutes: INAF-IAPS (National Institute of Astrophysics - Institute for Space Astro-physics and Planetology), CNR-IIA (National Council of Research – Institute of Atmospheric Pollution) and Politecnico di Milano and led by INAF-IAPS.

Figure 1. VISTA EQM developed for ESA Hera space mission.

Working Principle: The instrument core is a QCM whose frequency variations directly depends on the deposited sample mass on the crystal surface during sublimation, condensation and absorption/desorption processes. The instrument consists of: 1) two quartz crystals mounted in a sandwich-like configuration; 2) a Thermal Control System (TCS), composed by two integrated heaters and a Thermoelectric Cooler (TEC); 3) a Proximity Electronics (PE). VISTA is also capable of performing Thermo-Gravimetric Analysis, which is a technique used to monitor thermal processes involving volatile compounds, e.g. deposition/sublimation and absorption/desorption. It can also monitor particles lower than 5-10 µm and sub-µm particles [1].

Calibration: The QCM frequency can change not only due to the mass deposition/release, but also due to the variation of environmental parameters, such as temperature and pressure. In order to disentangle frequency variations due to mass deposition and environmental parameters, the sensor is calibrated by measuring the frequency as a function of temperature. According to literature [3], the frequency-temperature curve follows a third-degree polynomial (Figure 2).

Figure 2. QCM frequency as a function of temperature in vacuum.

Performance tests: VISTA capability to detect contaminant depositions and to monitor the accumulation and desorption processes is verified by placing an effusion cell containing an organic compound, used as a contamination source, placed in the Field Of View (FOV) of the sensing crystal and heated up to 100°C. The experimental setup is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. VISTA EQM experimental setup for contamination simulation.

The QCM is connected with four screws with a copper U shape and in contact with a cold sink set to -10°C to help the molecules condensation on the crystal surface. The frequency is monitored during the tests and the deposited flux can be retrieved (Figure 4) at each temperature set point.

Figure 4. Deposition test from +50°C to +100°C.

Two methods can be used to retrieve the enthalpy of sublimation ΔHsub by using the deposition rates, i.e. the Van’t Hoff relation [4] or Langmuir relation [5]. Thus, by measuring two different deposition rates, k1 and k2, at two different close temperatures T1 and T2, it is possible to obtain the compound ΔHsub by means of Van’t Hoff relation or throughout the temperature range by using Langmuir relation. 

TGA cycles are then performed by heating the crystals by means of the built-in heaters. After the heating cycles, the frequency returns to its initial value, thus indicating that all the deposited mass desorbed during the test (Figure 5).

Figure 5. TGA cycles from +15°C to +50°C and from +40°C to +70°C.

The desorption rates from crystals surface can be used as well to calculate the ΔHsub and compare it with the ΔHsub results obtained during the depositions/contamination processes.


References: [1] E. Palomba et al (2016), OLEB, 46(2-3; [2] G. Sauerbrey (1959), Z. Phys., 155, 206-222; [3] D. Salt (1987); [4] S.W. Benson et al., 1968; [5] I. Langmuir, 1913.

How to cite: Gisellu, C., Dirri, F., Palomba, E., Longobardo, A., Biondi, D., Angrisani, M., Zampetti, E., Scaccabarozzi, D., and Saggin, B.: Calibration and performance tests of VISTA, a microbalance for asteroid dust characterization and contamination for space mission applications, Europlanet Science Congress 2022, Granada, Spain, 18–23 Sep 2022, EPSC2022-790,, 2022.


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