The MOXIE instrument, installed on the Perseverance rover, was able to obtain oxygen from the atmosphere of Mars for the first time in history. In an hour, it produced about 5.4 grams of molecular oxygen, which is enough to provide a person with oxygen for ten minutes.
NASA’s Perseverance rover has achieved another historic success! For the first time on Mars, part of the unbreathable carbon dioxide air was converted to oxygen. This is a serious step towards the exploration of the planet not only through robots but also through manned expeditions!
The MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment) is an experimental instrument designed to demonstrate in practice how oxygen is produced from the Martian atmosphere for use as fuel and for breathing, so that future manned Martian missions do not rely on the supply of oxygen from Earth.
The total weight of the device is 17.1 kilograms, and the dimensions are 23.9 × 23.9 × 30.9 centimeters. A compressor with a filter and heaters is installed inside it, which injects air into the device, as well as a solid oxide electrolysis cell, which receives molecular oxygen from CO.2. Engineers estimate that MOXIE is capable of generating up to 10 grams of O2 per hour.
I remind readers that the atmosphere on Mars consists of 96% carbon dioxide. One molecule of carbon dioxide has one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. By electrolysis, MOXIE separates oxygen atoms from molecules, releasing a by-product of carbon monoxide during the reaction. The process requires a high temperature of 800 o C, which is why the device is built of heat-resistant materials.
On April 20, 2021, the device successfully completed its first oxygen production cycle on Mars. Initially, MOXIE warmed up to the desired temperatures for two hours, then began to generate oxygen at a rate of six grams per hour, and after a while slowed down the pace of work to assess its condition. During an hour of operation, the total amount of oxygen produced was about 5.4 grams, which is enough to provide a person with oxygen for ten minutes.
It is expected that in the future, MOXIE will conduct several more sessions of its work, so that scientists can evaluate the real performance of the device in different atmospheric conditions, for example, at different times of the day or different times of the year, as well as test different modes of operation of the device.
If everything goes according to plan, then we can talk about the possibility of creating a large installation, which, being equipped with a small power plant, is capable of producing at least two kilograms of oxygen per hour to provide astronauts on Mars.
This is perhaps the biggest achievement so far towards the goal of seeing people on Mars in the future. If scientists find a fast way to produce oxygen on the Red Planet, perhaps this dream will become reality a lot sooner than expected.
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• NASA. (n.d.). Mars oxygen in-situ resource UTILIZATION Experiment (MOXIE).
• Phys.org. (2021, April 22). In first, Perseverance Mars Rover makes oxygen on another planet.
• Potter, S. (2021, April 21). NASA’s perseverance Mars ROVER EXTRACTS First oxygen from red planet.
• Wall, M. (2021, April 21). NASA’s perseverance Rover makes oxygen on Mars for 1st time.