Space

Perseverance rover to create oxygen on the surface of Mars

Perseverance rover to create o...
An artist's impression of the Perseverance rover landed at Jezero Crater
An artist's impression of the Perseverance rover landed at Jezero Crater
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An artist's impression of the Perseverance rover landed at Jezero Crater
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An artist's impression of the Perseverance rover landed at Jezero Crater
The MOXIE instrument pictured being lowered into Perseverance's body
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The MOXIE instrument pictured being lowered into Perseverance's body

When NASA’s Perseverance rover touches down in Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, it will carry with it an experiment that will attempt to transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into precious oxygen. Future crewed missions to the Red Planet could use large amounts of converted oxygen to create fuel with which to launch return rockets from the surface of Mars.

Launching materials into space is a phenomenally difficult and expensive endeavor, with a price tag of roughly US$10,000 per pound of cargo launched in to orbit. To save on costs and make the ambitious goal of exploring Mars more realistic, NASA and its partners are exploring ways that future astronauts can utilize resources native to the Red Planet to survive and, eventually, return to Earth.

One of the most vital resources that astronauts will need to explore Mars is oxygen. This precious gas is needed for a range of purposes. Most obviously the human crew will need fresh oxygen to breathe, but it is also a key ingredient needed to synthesize the rocket fuel needed to power a rocket on the return trip to Earth.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to test the feasibility of producing oxygen on the Red Planet after descending to the Martian surface, with the use of its Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument.

The Martian atmosphere is incredibly thin relative to Earth’s atmospheric shield, and is comprised of 95 percent carbon dioxide.

The toaster-sized instrument is designed to suck the plentiful supply of CO2 from the atmosphere using an air pump, and electrochemically separate the greenhouse gas into its constituent parts, with each molecule yielding two atoms of oxygen and one of carbon. The results of the experiment would then be analyzed to gauge the purity and amount of oxygen produced.

"MOXIE is designed to make about six to 10 grams of oxygen per hour – just about enough for a small dog to breathe," said Asad Aboobaker, a MOXIE systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. "A full-scale system geared to make (propellant for the flight home) would need to scale up oxygen production by about 200 times what MOXIE will create."

This process runs at a high temperature – 1,470 °F (800 °C) to be precise – requiring the instrument to be constructed from heat-resistant materials including 3D-printed alloy elements that help distribute the excess heat. The box-shaped experiment is also coated in gold to protect the rest of the rover from the infrared radiation being generated during the oxygen creation process.

Perseverance’s science team is expected to run MOXIE 10 times over the course of a two-year period in order to test how efficiently the experiment is able to harvest oxygen from the atmosphere in varying Martian seasons.

Scientists are currently working to create a full-sized MOXIE oxygen extractor, which is set to be far larger than the Perseverance experiment, and could weigh around 2,200 lb (1,000 kg).

Source: NASA

13 comments
13 comments
FB36
Any tech that can be used to recycle air (by filtering/converting CO2 back to O2) would be also extremely useful for a moon base; not just a Mars base!
(& even for ISS in orbit currently!)

Otherwise, tons of water needs to be carried to space, periodically, which is extremely expensive!
(Tech for recycling water is already exists & used by NASA! So main need/use of water is to make O2!)

Here is another similar great tech:

https://newatlas.com/carbon-capture-co2-into-coal/58637
paul314
At last, a way to take advantage that 90-odd percent of the mass of a rocket is fuel.
Heckler
Will Moxie have to isolate atmospheric CH4 as part of its fuel making process, or will the left over carbon be burnt, or is the atmosphere thick enough that only the O2 needs to be stored for fuel, or something else?
Michael Garand
Heckler: Mars already has frozen hydrogen in the form of frozen ice, and possibly lakes of liquid water under the surface. Hydrogen would be used as the fuel but we need liquid oxygen for oxidation in order to burn said hydrogen.
Gizreader
The air we breathe on earth is 78% nitrogen. Where on Mars are they going to get that from? Breathing pure oxygen is deadly.
bahbah
Instead of this high temp method, they should focus more on plants and algae to convert the CO2 to O2. The process can be optimised with GMO tweaking. There is plenty of water in some underground parts in Mars. The Dutch have automated the process. By products are food, which store well at ambient temps there of -100 C or so. When eventually a crew is sent they will have food and oxygen.
INVENTZILLA
The oxygen generator is the size of a small toaster. They could put a different instrument on it to scan the surface or process samples of soil or something. An oxygen maker takes up space and it's STUPID. We know the exact composition of the Martian atmosphere and we know exactly how to split CO2 and make 02. The only different factor is the lower gravity. It's a waste of weight and space on the rover.
Catweazle
Gizreader says: "Breathing pure oxygen is deadly."

And yet:
"Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases telomere length and decreases immunosenescence in isolated blood cells : a prospective trial"
https://www.aging-us.com/article/202188/text
Rick Chandler
What happens to the carbon that's produced? Can the waste heat be reused at some point to power something else?
Robert Britton
I have made hydrogen/oxygen generating devices in my garage at very low cost using water. It would produce enough fuel to supplement fuel to a full size pickup truck. Chemical electrolysis to me seems like a much less complicated and inexpensive way to produce oxygen.
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