NASA's MOXIE proof-of-concept successfully converts Martian carbon dioxide to oxygen
Besides the Ingenuity helicopter that took flight on Mars earlier this week, NASA had sent another proof of concept to the red planet. The device is called Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE). While that name is a mouthful, on April 20, the project successfully generated five grams of breathable oxygen using just Martian carbon dioxide, and simple science. Here are more details.
On the 60th Martian day of the Perseverance rover's mission, NASA fired up MOXIE. The gold-coated toaster-size device intends to generate oxygen by processing the thin atmosphere on Mars that's 96 percent carbon dioxide. NASA explained that MOXIE heats Martian carbon dioxide to around 800 degrees Celsius. The process separates oxygen and generates carbon monoxide as a byproduct.
During its first test, MOXIE successfully generated five grams of oxygen over three hours and 48 minutes. Five grams of oxygen would provide around 10 minutes of breathable air to an astronaut, NASA estimated. MOXIE is designed to generate around 10 grams of oxygen every hour. NASA will run the device at least nine more times over the course of one Martian year.
NASA said that the oxygen production runs will be carried out in three phases, with phases focusing on characterizing MOXIE's function, running it in various Martian seasons and conditions, and trying new operating modes respectively. To help MOXIE function without damaging other apparatus on the Perseverance rover, it was built using heat-tolerant parts including 3D-printed nickel alloy bits.
Although Perseverance's primary mission is to scout the red planet for signs of ancient life, MOXIE was sent along to verify that such equipment would survive launch, a seven-month journey, and a Martian landing. MOXIE's success could play a crucial role in eventual manned missions to Mars. NASA explained that it would be more cost-effective to send an oxygen generator rather than pressurized oxygen.
NASA said that launching a rocket with four astronauts from Mars would require 25 metric tons of oxygen to help the rocket fuel combust. So, it would be wiser to send a one-ton oxygen generator like MOXIE that could produce 25 tons of oxygen, instead of sending 25 tons of pressurized oxygen that wouldn't serve the purpose until the return journey begins.
MOXIE is a joint effort between NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), MIT's Haystack Observatory, and MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The project has been funded by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.