Liquid oceans and ice caps, along with ice crusts, have long been considered defining features of the Earth, but space missions and observations have shown that they are in fact common features among many of the solar system's outer planets and their satellites. Interactions with rock-forming materials have produced saline oceans not dissimilar in many respects to those on Earth, where mineral precipitation within frozen seawater plays a significant role in both determining global properties and regulating the environment in which a complex ecosystem of extremophiles exists. Since water is considered an essential ingredient for life, the presence of oceans and ice on other solar system bodies is of great astrobiological interest. However, the details surrounding mineral precipitation in freezing environments are still poorly constrained, owing to the difficulties of sampling and ex situ preservation for laboratory analysis, meaning that predictive models have limited empirical underpinnings. To address this, the design and performance characterization of a transmission-geometry sample cell for use in long-duration synchrotron X-ray powder diffraction studies of in situ mineral precipitation from aqueous ice–brine systems are presented. The cell is capable of very slow cooling rates (e.g. 0.3°C per day or less), and its performance is demonstrated with the results from a year-long study of the precipitation of the hydrated magnesium sulfate phase meridianiite (MgSO4·11H2O) from the MgSO4–H2O system. Evidence from the Mars Rover mission suggests that this hydrated phase is widespread on the present-day surface of Mars. However, as well as the predicted hexagonal ice and meridianiite phases, an additional hydrated sulfate phase and a disordered phase are observed.