On April 20, an experimental instrument aboard the Perseverance rover successfully produced oxygen on Mars. This was announced by the NASA subsite dedicated to the Mars 2020 mission.
The MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment) instrument at 800 ° C separates oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, releasing a by-product, carbon monoxide, into the atmosphere.
Atmospheric pressure near the surface of Mars is 170 times less than Earth’s. The composition of the atmosphere is dominated by carbon dioxide – there is more than 95% of it, while oxygen is less than 0.15%. For comparison: on Earth, the atmosphere is 76% nitrogen, 23% oxygen, and carbon dioxide here is 0.05%.
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MOXIE collects, compresses and heats the Martian atmosphere with a HEPA filter, scroll compressor and heaters, and then separates the CO2 molecules on O2 and CO using solid oxide electrolysis.
A 300-watt device with dimensions 24x24x31 and weighing 15 kg was “warmed up” for two hours and then launched. During the experiment, the “exhaust” amounted to 5.4 g of oxygen – this is enough for ~ 10 minutes of normal human activity.
The production capacity of the test device is up to 10 grams / hour.
Oxygen will be needed by the future colonizers of the Red Planet, because in addition to breathing air, to return to Earth, a rocket / ship with a crew of four astronauts will need ~ 7 tons of rocket fuel and 25 tons of O2.
According to the calculations of the MIT Haystack Observatory, a large analogue of MOXIE weighing about a ton will be able to produce the necessary amount of oxygen for this.