There is an obvious problem with establishing colonies on other planets – oxygen.
This is why NASA’s Perseverance Rover is testing the creation of oxygen using a toaster-sized instrument called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment or simply, MOXIE.
This week NASA successfully created oxygen on Mars using MOXIE.
“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” says associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA, Jim Reuter. “MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars”.
But it’s not just oxygen for breathing that is needed.
Rocket fuel requires oxygen to burn, by NASA’s calculations seven tons of fuel is required to get four astronauts off of the Martian surface. In order to burn that fuel, 25 tons of oxygen is needed. By comparison, astronauts on Mars would only require one ton of oxygen over the course of a year.
Hauling that amount of oxygen through space is untenable so creating it on Mars is the best solution.
MOXIE works by separating oxygen from carbon dioxide. The waste product – carbon monoxide – is expelled into the Martian atmosphere. MOXIE can produce 10 grams of oxygen per hour.
“The conversion process requires high levels of heat to reach a temperature of approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). To accommodate this, the MOXIE unit is made with heat-tolerant materials. These include 3D-printed nickel alloy parts, which heat and cool the gases flowing through it, and a lightweight aerogel that helps hold in the heat. A thin gold coating on the outside of MOXIE reflects infrared heat, keeping it from radiating outward and potentially damaging other parts of Perseverance,” NASA explained.
The MOXIE device will extract oxygen nine more times over the next Martian year in three phases. The first phase will check out and characterise the instrument’s function, the second phase will test MOXIE at different times of the day and in different seasons while the third phase will test new operating modes and introduce issues that MOXIE can hopefully overcome.
Perseverance’s presence on Mars is really exciting and we’re keen to see what other accomplishments NASA can achieve during the rover’s life on Mars.
[Source – NASA][Image credit – NASA/JPL-Caltech]