An experiment that happened on Mars has proven that it is possible to extract breathable oxygen from the skinny Martian environment.
From its little house within the stomach of NASA’s Perseverance rover, the briefcase-sized Mars Oxygen In-Situ Useful resource Utilization (ISRU) Experiment (MOXIE) has been repeatedly breaking up molecules in Mars air to generate a small, however regular provide of oxygen.
Now, MOXIE is getting set to retire, after a job properly completed.
“MOXIE’s spectacular efficiency reveals that it’s possible to extract oxygen from Mars’ environment – oxygen that might assist provide breathable air or rocket propellant to future astronauts,” says NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
“Growing applied sciences that permit us use sources on the Moon and Mars is essential to construct a long-term lunar presence, create a sturdy lunar financial system, and permit us to help an preliminary human exploration marketing campaign to Mars.”
The MOXIE experiment, designed by MIT scientists, has been operating since Perseverance landed on Mars in February 2021. Not constantly; operators right here on Earth despatched instructions to MOXIE to see the way it runs over time beneath totally different Martian situations.
Since then, over 16 runs, MOXIE has produced a complete 122 grams of oxygen. That, NASA says, is about sufficient to maintain a small canine respiration for 10 hours – or a human for 4 hours.
It really works by electrolysis, utilizing a present to drive an electrochemical breakdown of carbon dioxide into its constituent atoms. MOXIE attracts in Martian air by a filter that scrubs it clear. This purified Mars air is then compressed, heated, and despatched by the Strong OXide Electrolyzer (SOXE). The electrolyzer splits the carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen ions.
The carbon monoxide is vented, however the oxygen atoms are recombined into O2, or molecular oxygen; the sort we have to survive. This fuel is then measured for amount and purity earlier than being vented again out once more.
Every run takes a couple of hours. Following a number of hours of warming up, MOXIE gathers oxygen for 1 hour per experiment adopted by a interval of powering down. On this hour of operation, MOXIE is designed to provide as much as 10 grams – about 20 minutes value of breathable oxygen for one astronaut.
That is on paper, at the very least. How a lot it really managed to provide diverse; on its sixteenth run, on 7 August, MOXIE extracted about 9.8 grams of breathable oxygen, which was fairly near its objective. This reveals that, as skinny and tenuous because the Martian environment is, it will probably yield a provide of oxygen.
Even within the worst case, a tool similar to MOXIE would be capable of complement different provides of oxygen, lowering the quantity of cargo wanted to be ferried from Earth.
However with what they’ve learnt from MOXIE, researchers beneath physicist and MOXIE principal investigator Michael Hecht of MIT imagine they’ll develop a full-scale system together with a new-and-improved model of the oxygen-extracting machine, a method to liquefy that fuel, and a option to retailer the liquid.
Future Martian explorers are going to want all the assistance they’ll get in being self-sufficient. Between the respiration necessities of a crew of astronauts dwelling on Mars for a yr, and the liquid propellant wanted to energy a spacecraft, some 500 metric tons of oxygen are going to be wanted.
It is going to have to attend, although. There are numerous issues that have to be examined and solved earlier than people try an extended keep on the purple planet. Oxygen is only one of them.
“We’ve got to make choices about which issues have to be validated on Mars,” Hecht says. “I believe there are a lot of applied sciences on that listing; I am very happy MOXIE was first.”
A paper on MOXIE’s first 7 runs was revealed in Science Advances final yr.