Rover Perseverance produces as much oxygen on Mars as a small tree

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Humans are one small step closer to landing on the red planet.

The Mars In-Situ Oxygen Resource Utilization Experiment — better known as Moxie — has been producing oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere in a series of tests as part of NASA’s Perseverance mission, which landed on Mars in February 2021.

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Moxie has managed to produce oxygen in seven experimental runs carried out since testing began in April 2021, in a variety of atmospheric conditions, including during the planet’s day and night, and at different Martian stations, according to research published in the journal Science Advances.

(Like Earth, Mars has distinct seasons, but they last longer than seasons here on Earth, as Mars takes longer to orbit the Sun, according to NASA.)

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In each run, Moxie reached its goal of producing six grams of oxygen per hour—roughly the rate of a modest tree on Earth.

“This is the first demonstration of actually using resources on the surface of another planetary body and chemically transforming them into something that would be useful for a human mission,” said Moxie Deputy Principal Investigator Jeffrey Hoffman, a retired astronaut and professor at the Institute. of Massachusetts, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics of Technology in a press release.

“It’s historic in that sense.”

The Moxie is too small — the size of a toaster — to fit aboard the Perseverance rover. It is built to run for short periods, starting and shutting down with each run, to align with the rover’s exploration schedule and other mission responsibilities.

A scaled-up Moxie would include larger units that could run continuously and potentially be sent to Mars ahead of a human mission to produce oxygen at the rate of several hundred trees.

This would allow for the generation — and storage — of enough oxygen to sustain humans once they arrive and fuel a rocket to return astronauts to Earth.

Moxie’s steady production since arriving on Mars is a promising first step toward that goal, the researchers said, although more fine-tuning is needed to ensure it can function at dawn and dusk — times when the planet’s temperature is at its lowest. changing substantially, said Michael. Hecht, principal investigator for the Moxie mission at MIT’s Haystack Observatory.

How Moxie works

The thin Martian atmosphere is made up of 96% carbon dioxide, which doesn’t help oxygen-breathing humans much.

It is also much more variable than Earth’s atmosphere. “Air density can vary by a factor of two throughout the year, and the temperature can vary by 37.7 degrees Celsius,” Hoffman said. “One goal is to show that we can race (Moxie) every season.”

Moxie works by splitting carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms — hence its chemical formula CO2. It separates the oxygen molecules and emits carbon monoxide as a waste product.

Engineers are still testing Moxie. They plan to increase its capacity and increase its production, with a focus on the Martian spring months, when the researchers said atmospheric density and carbon dioxide levels are particularly high.

“The next race will be during the highest density of the year, and we just want to produce as much oxygen as possible,” said Hecht. “We’re going to set everything as high as we can and let it run as long as we can.”

Members of NASA's Mars 2020 project install the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) on the chassis of the Perseverance rover.

Moxie also seems to be tough. It operated successfully despite having to turn it on and off repeatedly for test runs – a thermal stress that can degrade the system over time.

That would suggest that a large-scale system designed to run continuously could do so for thousands of hours, the MIT press release said.

“To support a human mission to Mars, we have to bring a lot of things from Earth, like computers, spacesuits and habitats,” Hoffman said in the statement. “But the idiot old oxygen? If you can get there, go for it – you are way ahead of the game.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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