The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment can make oxygen at anytime during the Martian day or year.
After the failure of the second Artemis I launch attempt, it is nice to have some good news to report.
An MIT-developed unit on NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully converted carbon dioxide into oxygen on Mars for the past 16 months.
The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, has been successfully creating oxygen from the carbon dioxide that makes up 95% of Mars’ atmosphere, according to a recent study published in the journal Science Advances. It hitched a ride with NASA’s Perseverance rover in February 2021 and started making oxygen about two months later.
The study shows MOXIE was able to produce oxygen at the rate of a modest tree on Earth — and did so in a variety of atmospheric conditions. NASA and MIT researchers believe a “scaled-up” version of MOXIE could potentially travel to Mars before a human mission and produce enough oxygen to sustain humans. It could also fuel the rocket’s return to Earth, MIT researchers said in a news release.
“We have learned a tremendous amount that will inform future systems at a larger scale,” said Michael Hecht, principal investigator of the MOXIE mission at MIT’s Haystack Observatory.
There is hope that large-scaled versions will be available for future crews heading to the Red Planet.
The achievement is a major step in preparing for sustainable human exploration of Mars as a scaled-up version of MOXIE could produce tens of tons of oxygen on the planet for a rocket to transport astronauts off the surface of Mars, instead of having to launch the required fuel from Earth.
A scaled-up version of MOXIE could produce enough oxygen to launch a craft for a six-person crew after 26-months.
While MOXIE performed well throughout 2021 after landing on the red planet in February of that year, researchers noted that a number of design compromises would need to be addressed in a scaled-up system.
One of the most promising finds during this experiment is that the unit has shown that it can make oxygen at almost any time of the Martian day and year.
Michael Hecht, principal investigator of the Moxie mission at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, said: “The only thing we have not demonstrated is running at dawn or dusk, when the temperature is changing substantially.
“We do have an ace up our sleeve that will let us do that, and once we test that in the lab, we can reach that last milestone to show we can really run any time.”
If the system can operate successfully despite repeatedly turning on and off, this would suggest a full-scale system, designed to run continuously, could do so for thousands of hours.
The unit works to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
It does so by first drawing the Martian air in through a filter that cleans it of contaminants.
The air is then pressurised, and sent through the Solid Oxide Electrolyzer (SOXE), an instrument developed and built by OxEon Energy, that electrochemically splits the carbon dioxide-rich air into oxygen ions and carbon monoxide.
The oxygen ions are then isolated and recombined to form breathable, molecular oxygen, or O2, which MOXIE then measures for quantity and purity before releasing it harmlessly back into the air, along with carbon monoxide and other atmospheric gases.
Hopefully, the entire Perseverance mission and the MOXIE experiment will continue to be a success.DONATE
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