• element analysis;
  • isotope analysis;
  • chemical composition;
  • LIMS;
  • space research;
  • in situ measurement

Key performance features of a miniature laser ablation time-of-flight mass spectrometer designed for in situ investigations of the chemical composition of planetary surfaces are presented. This mass spectrometer is well suited for elemental and isotopic analysis of raw solid materials with high sensitivity and high spatial resolution. In this study, ultraviolet laser radiation with irradiances suitable for ablation (< 1 GW/cm2) is used to achieve stable ion formation and low sample consumption. In comparison to our previous laser ablation studies at infrared wavelengths, several improvements to the experimental setup have been made, which allow accurate control over the experimental conditions and good reproducibility of measurements. Current performance evaluations indicate significant improvements to several instrumental figures of merit. Calibration of the mass scale is performed within a mass accuracy (Δm/m) in the range of 100 ppm, and a typical mass resolution (m/Δm) ~600 is achieved at the lead mass peaks. At lower laser irradiances, the mass resolution is better, about (m/Δm) ~900 for lead, and limited by the laser pulse duration of 3 ns. The effective dynamic range of the instrument was enhanced from about 6 decades determined in previous study up to more than 8 decades at present. Current studies show high sensitivity in detection of both metallic and non-metallic elements. Their abundance down to tens of ppb can be measured together with their isotopic patterns. Due to strict control of the experimental parameters, e.g. laser characteristics, ion-optical parameters and sample position, by computer control, measurements can be performed with high reproducibility. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.