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Small Gadget Presently on Mars Is Producing as A lot Oxygen as a Tree, Scientists Reveal

When you thought packing the automobile for a cross-country transfer was exhausting, packing an area shuttle for a transfer to Mars will probably be a brand new form of headache. Along with bringing objects like meals and water, spaceships heading to the crimson planet will even must convey scientific experiments, emergency provides, and residing habitats. 

Fortunately for these pioneering astronauts although, it appears to be like like one of many heaviest—and most necessary—sources will probably be supplied on website: oxygen. In actual fact, a lunchbox-sized machine at the moment on the floor of Mars is already reliably producing as a lot oxygen as a tree, scientists revealed on Wednesday.

Oxygen will probably be necessary not solely to offer astronauts breathable air once they’re off-planet but additionally to assist gas rockets to finally take them again to Earth. In a new paper revealed on Wednesday within the journal Science Advances, researchers from MIT clarify how a small experiment roaming Mars on the again of NASA’s Perseverance rover is proof that it is attainable to create oxygen from the Martian ambiance. 

This experiment can also be the primary to efficiently harvest and use sources on any planetary physique, a course of that will probably be necessary not just for Martian exploration however future lunar habitats as nicely.

Michael Hecht is a co-author on the brand new paper and principal investigator of the challenge, known as MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In Situ Useful resource Utilization Experiment). He informed Motherboard in an e mail that researchers targeted on harvesting oxygen as a result of it might be one of the tough sources to convey from Earth and would have a number of roles to play in making a sustainable habitat on Mars.

“I wish to say rockets breathe much more than we do,” Hecht stated. “Only for the lift-off to orbit, the rocket will use extra that 10 occasions the quantity of gas than the crew of 4-6 will use of their year-and-a-half keep on the floor, and therefore it can want 10 occasions as a lot oxygen.” 

MOXIE first landed on Mars in February 2021 and since then has been powered up seven totally different occasions beneath totally different seasonal and climate circumstances to create oxygen utilizing compounds within the Martian ambiance like CO2. This air is handed by way of a HEPA filter to take away any mud, heated to 800 levels Celsius and compressed such that it breaks aside into simply oxygen ions and CO. The oxygen ions are then remoted and recombined to create breathable and flamable O2.

Up to now, MOXIE has been capable of create six grams of oxygen per hour in every of its seven runs, which researchers say is equal to a small tree. And whereas MOXIE does create a small quantity of CO2 and CO exhaust from this course of, Hercht says it is nothing that may hurt the Martian ambiance. 

“There may be already hint oxygen and CO on Mars from pure causes comparable to radiation breaking apart CO2 molecules,” Hercht stated. “In some ways it’s the last word clear gas system, just like hydrogen gas on Earth.”

Whereas MOXIE is proof optimistic that it’s attainable to create oxygen on one other planet, the system itself just isn’t but strong sufficient to maintain a habitat on Mars. To try this, Hecht stated that researchers might want to scale MOXIE as much as the dimensions of a “small chest freezer.” At this scale, MOXIE 2.0 may create sufficient oxygen to both maintain 100 crew members on Mars or carry a four-person crew off-planet in a rocket. 

Scaling up the expertise itself shouldn’t be too difficult stated Hercht, however operating the system autonomously on Mars for hundreds of hours could possibly be trickier, particularly for the reason that unique MOXIE has thus far solely run for lower than 100 hours because it touched down final yr. 

Within the meantime, Hecht and colleagues are desirous to proceed testing MOXIE each on Mars and in a Mars simulated lab again on Earth to push the expertise’s boundaries. Particularly, they’re trying ahead to growing manufacturing capability throughout Martian spring when atmospheric density and carbon dioxide ranges are excessive. Presently, it’s early winter on Mars.

With a bit moxie, and MOXIE-generated oxygen, the way forward for Martian habitats is trying higher on a regular basis.

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