Technicians in the clean room are carefully lowering the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Technicians within the clear room are fastidiously reducing the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Useful resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the stomach of the Perseverance rover

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The floor of Mars, dusty and devoid of something resembling life as we all know it, is hardly the type of setting we people can name ‘house’. Additional, with 96% of its environment comprising of carbon dioxide and nearly no vegetation to talk of, the prospect of us Earthlings settling there has at all times appeared far-fetched.

However what if we instructed you that whereas humanity is but to plant oxygen-producing bushes on the Pink Planet, it might have achieved the subsequent neatest thing?

MIT engineers had a lunchbox-sized system delivered all the best way to Mars final 12 months, and this little field has efficiently been capable of produce the quantity of oxygen equal to the amount launched by a tree within the in any other case inhospitable environs since April 2021.

Meet MOXIE: Mars’ O2 Maker

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Useful resource Utilisation Experiment, or MOXIE, designed by researchers at MIT, weighs round 17 kgs on Earth (6.4 kg on Mars) and may produce oxygen on the charge of as much as 10 grams per hour. Since its inception, the instrument has been capable of produce oxygen on seven experimental runs in Mars’ numerous atmospheric circumstances, together with in the course of the day and evening and thru totally different Martian seasons.

In every run, MOXIE has reached its goal of manufacturing six grams of oxygen per hour — concerning the charge of a modest tree on Earth utilizing the ample carbon dioxide within the Martian environment.

“That is the primary demonstration of really utilizing sources on the floor of one other planetary physique and remodeling them chemically into one thing that might be helpful for a human mission. It is historic in that sense,” says MOXIE deputy principal investigator Jeffrey Hoffman, a professor of the follow in MIT’s Division of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

How does MOXIE work?

The present MOXIE is constructed to run for transient intervals of time, beginning up and shutting down with every run, relying on the Perseverance rover’s exploration schedule and mission duties. It’s compact by design to suit throughout the rover. Nonetheless, MOXIE has demonstrated that regardless of the inevitable trade-offs in its present structure, it might probably reliably and successfully convert Mars’ atmospheric carbon dioxide into pure oxygen.

To do that, it attracts in Martian air and passes it via a filter to take away any impurities. Within the Stable OXide Electrolyzer (SOXE), the compressed air is break up into oxygen ions and carbon monoxide by electrochemical reactions.

The oxygen ions are then separated and united once more to create breathable molecular oxygen, or O2, which MOXIE then analyses for amount and purity earlier than releasing it again into the environment with carbon monoxide and different atmospheric gases.

Upscaling MOXIE

Bigger models in a full-scale oxygen plant would ideally run constantly. And in keeping with researchers, a scaled-up MOXIE could also be transported to Mars earlier than a human journey to create oxygen frequently on the charge of a number of hundred bushes!

At that capability, the system ought to be capable to produce sufficient oxygen to help individuals as soon as they arrive in addition to energy a rocket for astronauts returning to Earth.

“To help a human mission to Mars, we’ve to deliver a number of stuff from Earth, like computer systems, spacesuits, and habitats,” Hoffman says. “However dumb outdated oxygen? If you can also make it there, go for it — you are method forward of the sport.”

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