Perseverance manages to manufacture oxygen, a key step for manned missions to Mars

The oxygen or water supply is one of the challenges for future manned missions to Mars, toward which the Perseverance rover has taken another step by making breathable oxygen from the planet’s thin atmosphere.

Among the various experiments carried out by the NASA rover is Moxiea device the size of a lunchbox that has been proving, intermittently, for more than a year that it can reliably perform the same work as a small tree in any season.

The experiment is run by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that publishes in Science Advances the results of the seven occasions in which it has been launched, and in all of them it achieved the objective of producing six grams of oxygen per hour, more or less the rate of a modest tree on Earth .

The good performance of the machine is a step towards the goal of sending manned missions and it is also the first demonstration of the use of resources “in situ” to create resources that would otherwise have to be transported from Earth.

Since Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater in February 2021, Moxie has proven to work in all seasons of the Earth. martian year and at various time slots to obtain oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, rich in carbon dioxide

Researchers predict that an enlarged version of Moxie could be sent to Mars before a human missionto continuously produce oxygen at the rate of several hundred trees, which would generate enough to sustain people and fuel a rocket to return them to Earth.

The principal investigator of this project Michael Hecht, from MIT, stressed that they have learned “a lot & rdquor; of this experiment, which will serve as the basis for future systems on a larger scale.

The current version is small, to fit aboard Perseverance, and built to run for short periodsstarting up and shutting down with each drive, depending on the rover’s exploration schedule and mission responsibilities.

The machine draws in Martian air through a filter that cleans it of contaminants, after which it is pressurized and sent through the solid oxide electrolyser (SOXE), which electrochemically splits the carbon dioxide-rich air into oxygen ions and carbon monoxide.

Oxygen ions isolate and recombine to form breathable molecular oxygen (O2), the quantity and purity of which Moxie measures before it is released back into the air, along with carbon monoxide and other atmospheric gases.

The experiment has been turned on seven times, at different seasons of the year, to test its effectiveness, since the density of the atmosphere of mars varies much more than on Earth during the year.

“It has also worked at various times of the dayexcept at dawn and dusk when the temperature changes substantially,” time slots that have yet to be tested, Hecht said.

The engineers plan Expand your capacity and increase your productionespecially in the upcoming Martian spring, when atmospheric density and carbon dioxide levels are high.

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They will also monitor the system for signs of wear. Moxie is just one of the experiments of Perseverance and cannot run continuously, instead it cycles off and on, creating thermal stress that can degrade the system over time.

If the machine can work successfully despite turn on and off repeatedly, this would suggest, the team notes, that a large-scale system, designed to run continuously, could do so for thousands of hours.


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