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MIT’s MOXIE Unit Succeeds in Generating Oxygen on Mars

MIT’s MOXIE Unit Succeeds in Generating Oxygen on Mars

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.


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SpaceX also had a successful launch this morning.

Wow just wow

This doodad eats carbon dioxide and emits new carbon monoxide… and it’s considered a success?
Carbon dioxide, like nitrogen (which makes up 78% of earth’s air) won’t sustain life, but it’s breathable and biologically inert.
Carbon monoxide is a poison that kills you in short order.
Maybe someone should suggest to Brandon that he order a few of these units for the Oval Office to “keep his administration Green.”

    My initial response was a similar, “Say What?!?!”. I don’t think an atmosphere with a 1:1 ratio of CO to O2 will be advantageous, as CO bonds to hemoglobin more tightly than O2, hence poisoning and death.
    I imagine they must have or are planning a way to deal with the CO.

      Colonel Travis in reply to MDP. | September 5, 2022 at 10:03 pm

      CO has been thought about as a propellant for use on Mars. With all the CO humans produce here, would it really a problem there?

      aivanther in reply to MDP. | September 6, 2022 at 12:56 am

      I’m thinking something more in line with storing both Co and O2. O2 is then used for habitats, while Co is used for…I don’t know, but I’m sure someone has ideas. I sincerely doubt this is an attempt at creating planet wide O2

        I would think you are correct, but the article talks about “releasing it back into the air”, I guess perhaps that is what is happening now with the feasibility prototype, but when they scale it up they will intend to capture it- but then they will be faced with the issue of how to separate the O2 from the CO with what can be assembled there.

        drednicolson in reply to aivanther. | September 6, 2022 at 10:34 am

        Any attempt to “terraform” Mars in a sci-fi sense is probably doomed to failure. The planet’s magnetic field isn’t strong enough to hold an Earth-like atmosphere. The solar wind strips away any gasses lighter than CO2.

      broomhandle in reply to MDP. | September 6, 2022 at 8:00 am

      The CO is a non-issue. The amount and rate released into the atmosphere will not enough to matter. In the future it might be captured for industrial use.

        docduracoat in reply to broomhandle. | September 6, 2022 at 10:49 pm

        While it is true that the solar wind will eventually remove the enriched oxygen from Mars‘s atmosphere, that will take about 1 million years.
        Call a human timescale that’s long enough that we don’t have to worry about it all

    Nothing a mask mandate can’t fix.

Colonel Travis | September 5, 2022 at 9:17 pm

But turning the Pacific into drinkable water for the West is a big-ah-shucks-we-can’t-do-that.

    drednicolson in reply to Colonel Travis. | September 5, 2022 at 10:46 pm

    There’s a nigh-inexhaustible supply of fresh water in the ice asteroids of Saturn’s rings, should we figure out an efficient way to go get it.

      A solution in search of a problem. There’s no shortage of water here, just a shortage of potable water. It’s a lot cheaper to build desalination plants than to try to import water from Saturn.

      MattMusson in reply to drednicolson. | September 6, 2022 at 6:59 am

      We have thousands of ice bergs full of freshwater here on earth.

      broomhandle in reply to drednicolson. | September 6, 2022 at 8:05 am

      It is a question of nuclear power and brine management. We absolutely could make endless amounts of freshwater with minimal pollution but politics prevents the engineering solutions

        henrybowman in reply to broomhandle. | September 6, 2022 at 5:02 pm

        One of my favorite keepsakes is a clipping book called Yesterday’s Tomorrows. It’s loaded with all the predictions and promises (and images and ads) we were treated to in the ’50s about soon being able to own nuclear-powered/flying cars and the like. You can page through the book and identify maybe 20% of the predictions as still perfectly feasible, wonder why no one ever persevered with them, and at least half the time you realize the answer is politics.

Thanks for the update, Leslie.

“from the carbon dioxide that makes up 95% of Mars’ atmosphere”

Martian SUV’s are the cause.

    txvet2 in reply to Barry. | September 6, 2022 at 1:42 am

    All they need is seeds and some water vapor and they could turn it into a jungle without all the fancy footwork. Maybe we can use dred’s idea of getting water from Saturn and turn Mars into a greenhouse.

      #FJB <-- Disco Stu_ in reply to txvet2. | September 6, 2022 at 6:39 am

      Clever concept, that.

      Now trying to picture some form of pipeline carrying fresh water from Saturn to Mars. Would need a lot of flexibility built in, eh?

That’s nothing. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, has developed a method to produce semen, in sits you, on Uranus.

Can’t use up that CO2 or we will create climate change on Mars and kill….hmm well I guess nothing.