In order to be able to establish a lasting colony on the planet Marsthe first condition is to have water and oxygen available. For water, studies have already shown that it can be found in the form of ice on the Red Planet. As it concerns oxygenresearchers have begun to conduct an experiment for to be able to produce it on Mars. On board the rover Perseverancewhich is currently on the planet, there is an instrument designed by MIT scientists which tests a process of production of oxygen from the martian atmosphere.
The experiment in question is called Moxie, and it has already produced oxygen several times. Moxie, or Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experimentarrived on Mars with Perseverance in February 2021. It was first activated two months after landing, and was able to produce approximately 5.4g of oxygen.
Moxie produces oxygen by sucking air from the carbon-rich Martian atmosphere. This air passes through a filter that removes contaminants and is then compressed and heated. An electrolyser will then separate the carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen ions. These ions are isolated and recombined to form molecular oxygen.
Since Moxie isn’t the only experience aboard Perseverance, it can’t be continuously activated. When this is the case, the instrument operates for one hour. So far the experience has been activated 7 times with different scenariosthat is to say with different atmospheric conditions, during the day and at night, and during different seasons.
Every time, Moxie was able to achieve its goal of producing 6g of oxygen. According to MIT researchers, it is the same amount as an average tree on Earth can produce. They believe that they have taken an important step towards the development of larger systems that can support a human population.
Further tests are planned
Although these initial results are promising, scientists still want test Moxie in more extreme conditions. Indeed, the strong fluctuations in the atmosphere of Mars can cause a significant change in air density and temperature.
So the researchers will now test the system at dawn and dusk to see how it performs when the temperature changes significantly. Among the next steps, there will also be the tests during the Martian spring. During this period, atmospheric density and carbon dioxide levels are at their highest.