Perseverance manufactures 100 minutes of breathable oxygen on Mars

The success of the Moxie tool is an important step towards the goal of sending human exploration missions to the Red Planet. Scientists now suggest sending more such tools to Mars.

The The Perseverance rover has taken another important step on Mars by manufacturing the equivalent of 100 minutes of breathable oxygen. from the planet’s thin atmosphere, rich in carbon dioxide, as described in the study published this Wednesday (08.31.2022) by the journal Science.

Among the various experiments being conducted by the NASA rover is Moxie,a device the size of a briefcase which has been showing for more than a year that it can perform, reliably and at any time of the Martian year, the same work as a small tree.

Six grams of oxygen per hour

Of the seven times Moxie went to work, each time she achieved the goal of producing six grams of oxygen per hour, about the rate of a modest tree on Earth. The tool is used in different seasons of the year to test its effectiveness, since the density of Mars’ atmosphere varies much more than on Earth during the year.

“It has also worked at various times of the day, except at dawn and dusk when the temperature changes substantially,” swaths in which it has not yet been tested, said lead author Michael Hecht.

The good performance of the machine implies an important step towards the goal of sending manned missions that will need supplies of oxygen and water on the Red Planet. In addition, it is the first demonstration of the use of elements “in situ” to create resources that would otherwise have to be transported from Earth.

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Send an expanded version of Moxie to Mars

The researchers suggest sending an upgraded version of Moxie to Mars before a human mission, to constantly produce oxygen at a rate of several hundred trees, which would allow enough of this element to sustain people and fuel a rocket back to Earth.

The current version is small and was made to fit aboard the Perseverance. It is built to run for short periods, turning on and off with each drive, depending on the rover’s exploration schedule and mission responsibilities.

How is oxygen produced?

The machine draws Martian air through a filter that cleans it of contaminants, after which it is pressurized and sent through the solid oxide electrolyser (SOXE)which electrochemically splits carbon dioxide-rich air into oxygen and carbon monoxide ions.

Oxygen ions are isolated and recombined to form breathable molecular oxygen (O2), the quantity and purity of which is measured by Moxie before it is released back into the air, along with carbon monoxide and other atmospheric gases.

New tests in the future

Engineers plan to expand its capacity and increase production, especially in the coming Martian spring, when atmospheric density and carbon dioxide levels are high.

Moxie is just one of Perseverance’s experiments and cannot run continuously, instead turning off and on, creating a thermal stress which can degrade the system over time. If it works successfully despite being repeatedly turned on and off, this would suggest that a large-scale system, designed to run continuously, could do so for thousands of hours.

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