A device about the size of a lunch box successfully produces breathable oxygen tuesdayDoing a little tree work.
The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXY, has been successfully producing oxygen from the red planet’s carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere since February last year.
Researchers suggest that a scaled-up version of Moxie could be sent to Mars to continuously produce oxygen at the rate of several hundred trees before humans get to the planet.
Moxie touched down on the surface of Mars as part of NASA’s Perseverance rover mission.
By the end of 2021, Moxie was able to produce oxygen in seven test runs, in various atmospheric conditions, including day and night, and in different seasons on Mars, researchers report in a study.
With each run it achieved its goal of producing 6 grams of oxygen per hour – the same rate as a normal tree on Earth.
Once humans arrive on Mars, the system is believed to be able to produce enough oxygen at full capacity to fuel a rocket to return humans to Earth.
Moxie co-principal investigator Jeffrey Hoffman, professor of practice in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said: “This is the first demonstration of using resources on the surface of another planet and chemically modifying them to be useful for a human mission.
The current version of the instrument is compact enough to fit on the Perseverance rover and is designed to operate for short periods of time. A full-scale oxygen plant would consist of large units that could operate continuously.
So far, Moxie has shown that oxygen can be produced at any time of day and year on Mars.
Michael Hecht, principal investigator of the Moxie mission at MIT’s Haystack Observatory, said: “When the temperature changes significantly, we don’t demonstrate running at dawn or dusk.
“We have an ace up our sleeve that will allow us to do that, and once we test it in the lab, we can reach that last milestone to show that we can run in no time.”
A full-scale system designed for continuous operation can operate for thousands of hours if the system can successfully operate despite repeated on and off cycles.
Hoffman said: “To support a human mission to Mars, many items such as computers, space suits and habitats will need to be brought from Earth.
“But dumb old oxygen? If you can make it there, go for it – you’re ahead of the game.
The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.