An instrument the size of a handbag managed to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide that dominates the thin atmosphere of Mars. He achieved it in seven experimental runs, divided between the night and day of the red planet and during all its seasons. The success of the experiment makes it possible to think about multiplying production and supplying future manned missions, using only local resources and taking a big step towards making human colonies on Mars a reality.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the United States, reported that the Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) has managed to produce oxygen on Mars from April 2021 to today, using only the carbon dioxide that makes up 95% of the Martian atmosphere. The project is led by MIT, and has been incorporated into NASA’s Mars 2020 mission along with the Perseverance Rover.
oxygen made on mars
Almost 160 million kilometers from Earth, a small box equipped with a complex instrument seems to be laying the groundwork for the terraforming of mars, humanity’s long-standing dream of living on the red planet and establishing colonies, “adapting” Martian conditions to resemble those on Earth as closely as possible. According to one Press releaseMOXIE has managed to produce oxygen at the level of a terrestrial tree, using only on-site resources.
The on-site resource utilization (ISRU) is the term used to describe the harvesting and processing of native resources on other planetary bodies. Consequently, MOXIE represents the first demonstration of ISRU technology on another planet, a historic milestone for space exploration and humanity’s future deployment throughout the Solar System and beyond.
MOXIE has successfully produced oxygen from the carbon dioxide that dominates the atmosphere of Mars, thanks to a process called solid oxide electrolysis. Increasing this production would make a huge contribution to sustainable human exploration of Mars, by generating the oxygen needed for astronauts and crew in situ, rather than requiring the mobilization of hundreds of tons of material from the Earth’s surface. to transport the required oxygen to Mars.
A successful process
According to a new study recently published in the journal Science Advances, MOXIE has effectively produced oxygen in seven experiments conducted between landing in February 2021 and the end of last yearand continues to demonstrate oxygen production equivalent to that of a tree on Earth, during night and day and throughout all Martian seasons.
The instrument has shown that it can reliably and efficiently convert Mars’ atmosphere into pure oxygen. In principle, it sucks in the Martian air through a filter that cleans it of contaminants. The air is then pressurized and sent through the solid oxide electrolyser (SOXE)which electrochemically splits carbon dioxide-rich air into oxygen and carbon monoxide ions.
Finally, the oxygen ions are isolated and recombined to form breathable molecular oxygen (O2). In addition, before it is harmlessly released into the air, along with carbon monoxide and other atmospheric gases, the oxygen is analyzed for its quantity and purity. The process success It shows that the creation of a large-scale system could be feasible in the future.
the new challenge
However, as MOXIE is still an experiment aboard the Perseverance rover, it cannot function continuously as a large-scale system would. Instead, the instrument must be turned on and off with each run, generating a thermal stress which can degrade the system over time.
But if MOXIE can work successfully despite repeatedly turning on and off, this would suggest that a large-scale system and designed for greater oxygen production, designed to work continuously, it could do it for thousands of hours. That’s the next challenge researchers have set for themselves, in what could mark a momentous new step for human life on the red planet.
Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE)—Preparing for human Mars exploration. Jeffrey A. Hoffman et al. Science Advances (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abp8636