A toaster-sized instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover is “reliably” converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars at about the same rate as a small tree on Earth, a new study has revealed.
The Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or ‘MOXIE,’ has been successfully producing oxygen from the Red Planet’s CO2-rich atmosphere since February 2021, when Perseverance first touched down on the Martian surface. .
Now, a new study published in the journal Science Advances shows that MOXIE can produce oxygen in a variety of atmospheric conditions, including during the day and night, and during different Martian seasons.
In each of the seven experimental runs, the instrument met its goal of producing six grams of oxygen per hour, about the same rate as a modest tree on Earth.
The researchers envision that an enlarged version of MOXIE could be sent to Mars before a human mission, to continuously produce oxygen at the rate of several hundred trees.
With that capacity, the system should generate enough oxygen to sustain humans once they arrive and fuel a rocket for astronauts to return to Earth.
The Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or ‘MOXIE’, has been successfully producing oxygen from the Red Planet’s CO2-rich atmosphere since February 2021.
The current version of MOXIE has a small footprint, to fit aboard Perseverance, and is built for short periods, starting up and shutting down with each drive, depending on the rover’s exploration schedule and mission responsibilities.
Harvesting and using a planet’s materials, such as CO2, to produce oxygen or other resources that would otherwise have to be transported is known as “in situ resource utilization.”
“This is the first demonstration of the actual use of resources on the surface of another planetary body and their chemical transformation into something that would be useful for a human mission,” said MOXIE Deputy Principal Investigator Professor Jeffrey Hoffman of the Department of Aeronautics. and Astronautics from MIT. .
“It’s historic in that sense.”
The current version of MOXIE has a small design, to fit aboard Perseverance, and is built for short periods, starting up and shutting down with each run, depending on the rover’s exploration schedule and mission responsibilities.
By contrast, a large-scale oxygen factory would include larger units that would ideally run continuously.
Despite the necessary compromises in the current design, the instrument has shown that it can reliably and efficiently convert Mars’ atmosphere to pure oxygen.
It does this by first sucking in the Martian air through a filter that cleans it of contaminants.
The air is then pressurized and sent through the Solid Oxide Electrolyzer (SOXE), an instrument developed and built by OxEon Energy, which electrochemically splits carbon dioxide-rich air into oxygen and carbon monoxide ions.
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 into the air, along with carbon monoxide and other atmospheric gases.