Perseverance: First oxygen from Mars

Forum Science Perseverance: First oxygen from Mars

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    Perseverance: First oxygen from Mars

    Breathing air for astronauts: The Mars rover Perseverance has successfully extracted oxygen from the Martian atmosphere – it is the first oxygen production on a foreign planet. This was made possible by the MOXIE experiment, which uses heat and electricity to split the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere to produce oxygen. The yield of around five grams of O2 per hour is still low, but future systems could generate enough air for astronauts to breathe.

    The Mars rover Perseverance has only been on Mars for a few weeks and has already accomplished some pioneering feats. In a video he showed us for the first time what a Mars landing looks like from the point of view of a space probe, and a little later his microphone recorded for the first time the noises made when driving on the surface of Mars. On April 19, 2021 Perseverance’s little companion, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, succeeded in the first powered flight of a man-made vehicle on an alien planet.

    Oxygen from the Martian atmosphere

    Now there is another milestone: For the first time it has been possible to extract oxygen from the environment on a strange planet. This was made possible with the “Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment” (MOXIE) – a small box about the size of a toaster that Perseverance carries on its instrument platform. MOXIE was activated for the first time on April 20, 2021 – with success.

    MOXIE extracts oxygen by sucking in and compressing the thin but carbon dioxide-rich Martian air. Then the 94 percent CO2 gas is heated to around 800 degrees and fed into a container with two electrodes. There an electrolysis takes place – the splitting of the carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide. The oxygen collects at the cathode and could, for example, be used as breathing gas, the residual gases flow back into the atmosphere after being filtered.

    Five grams of oxygen per hour

    In its first test, MOXIE generated around five grams of oxygen per hour in this way. That is not very much and only corresponds to around ten minutes of breathing air for an astronaut. But it is proof that the technology works – and for the first time that a man-made device extracts oxygen from the environment of an alien planet.

    “This is a critical first step in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter of NASA. In the course of the next two Martian years, MOXIE will draw oxygen from the Martian atmosphere at least nine times. Scientists want to test how well the process works at different times of the day and year. In the final test phase, MOXIE should then go all out and try out new methodological variants, including different extraction temperatures.

    Resource for future missions to Mars

    On-site oxygen production is particularly important for future manned missions to Mars. “MOXIE is not just the first instrument to produce oxygen on another planet. He is also the first pioneer of a technology that will allow future missions to live ‘on the land’, ”explains NASA scientist Trudy Kortes. Thanks to electrolysis and other technologies, astronauts or their robotic vanguard could then generate oxygen, water and other raw materials from the atmosphere and the regolith of Mars.

    “The results of this technology demonstration give hope for our goal of one day seeing people on Mars,” says Reuter. Because in order to supply astronauts on the Red Planet with breathing air and to get fuel for the return flight, the oxygen has to be obtained on site – transport from Earth would be too expensive and time-consuming. Just to bring four people with a rocket from the surface of Mars into space would require around 25 tons of oxygen as rocket fuel.

    Astronauts would need much less air to breathe in a Mars station: “Astronauts who spend a year on the surface of Mars would probably only need around a ton in total,” explains MOXIE project manager Michael Hecht from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A larger version of MOXIE weighing around one ton or several smaller ones would be sufficient to obtain this approximately 26 tons of oxygen on Mars.

    Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Forum Science Perseverance: First oxygen from Mars