An in-situ Mars Oxygen Resource Experiment – known as MOXIE – has succeeded in making oxygen from the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere of Mars in a series of tests, as part of NASA’s Explosive Probe mission, that landed on Mars in February 2021.
In each run, MOXIE reached its goal of producing six grams of oxygen per hour – the rate of a modest tree on Earth.
“This is the first demonstration of actually using resources on the surface of another planetary body, and chemically converting them into something that might be useful for a human mission,” said Jeffrey Hoffman, Moxy’s deputy principal investigator. retired astronaut and professor in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics in a press release.
“It is historical in that sense.”
The MOXIE is compact – about the size of a toaster – to allow for placement on the Perseverance rover. It is designed to run for short periods, starting and closing with each round, to align with the rover’s exploration schedule and other mission responsibilities.
The expanded MOXIE will include larger units that can operate continuously and potentially be sent to Mars in advance of a human oxygen-producing mission at the rate of several hundred trees. This would allow it to generate – and store – enough oxygen to support humans once they arrive and refuel a rocket to bring the astronauts back to Earth.
Michael said MOXIE’s stable production since arriving on Mars is a promising first step toward that goal, although more fine-tuning is needed to make sure it can operate at dawn and dusk — times when the planet’s temperature changes dramatically. Hecht, principal investigator on the MOXIE mission at MIT’s Haystack Observatory.
How does MOXIE work
Mars’ thin atmosphere is made up of 96% carbon dioxide, which isn’t much help for oxygen breathing.
It is also much more diverse than Earth’s atmosphere. “Air density can vary as much as two times during the year, and the temperature can vary by 100 degrees,” Hoffman said. “One of the goals is to show that we can run (MOXIE) in all seasons.”
MOXIE works by splitting carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms – hence its chemical formula CO2. It separates oxygen molecules and emits carbon monoxide as a waste product.
Engineers are still testing MOXIE. They plan to increase its capacity and increase its production, focusing on the Martian spring months when researchers said atmospheric density and carbon dioxide levels in particular high.
“The next round is going to be during the highest density of the year, and we just want to produce as much oxygen as possible,” Hecht said. “We will set everything as high as we dare, and let it run for as long as possible.”
MOXIE also appears to be powerful. It worked successfully despite having to repeatedly turn itself on and off for trial run – a thermal stress that can degrade the system over time. This would indicate that a large-scale system, designed to run continuously, could do so for thousands of hours, A press release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said.
“To support a human mission to Mars, we have to bring in a lot of things from Earth, such as computers, spacesuits, and habitats,” Hoffman said in the statement. “But stupid old oxygen? If you can get there, go find it – you’re way ahead of the game.”
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