Perseverance breeds oxygen, which is the precedent for science

Perseverance breeds oxygen, which is the precedent for science

The rover probe has made history again by successfully producing a small amount of oxygen on Mars. This new feat could pave the way for larger devices capable of supporting the human presence on the Red Planet.

Oxygen production on Mars

On Mars, all eyes were on Ingenuity, the first spacecraft to make a powered trip on another planet for days. However, let’s not forget the perseverance placed at a good distance documenting his companion’s exploits. If the rover’s main mission was to search for evidence of past life on Mars, engineers have also put in its luggage a small box also tasked with making history.

This little box is for the experience of using Mars’ oxygen resources in situ (or MOXIE). Her goal is Converting part of the red planet’s carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. Like creativity, it is a showcase of technology that could allow future Mars explorers to breathe, but also to fill up the oxygen tanks they would need to return to Earth.

As a tech show, this little gold bag will only work occasionally. Additionally, the instrument requires a large energy input to heat a major portion of the experiment to around 800 ° C.

Ideally, every time the MOXIE is triggered, the instrument will spend about 2 hours warming up, then produce oxygen for about an hour. This process will use most of Perseverance’s power supplies for today.

Almost identical twin from MOXIE used for tests at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory / California Institute of Technology

Many challenges to overcome

To operate, the instrument must extract carbon dioxide from the thin Martian atmosphere, then separate the carbon from the oxygen. MOXIE then produces carbon monoxide gas as a by-product (a rapidly dissipating gas).

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During operation, MOXIE should not use all the absorbed carbon dioxide, with the risk of producing carbon soot instead of carbon monoxide, which could clog its tools.

Another important point: if the device does not receive enough electricity, the reaction will be reversed. In other words, MOXIE will act as a fuel cell. Instead of drawing oxygen from carbon dioxide, it will try to produce carbon dioxide from oxygen. Since there is no source of oxygen on Mars, it will thus begin extracting the famous gas from the anode side of the device, cracking the material.

Note that MOXIE will only attempt to produce oxygen on a small scale. And with good reason, perseverance doesn’t progress Only 110 watts of power are available for the entire rover.

Mars perseverance
The persevering photo was taken on March 21, 2021 (Sol 29). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Historic (new) achievement

But will this fund succeed in its mission? to me NASAThe answer is yes! If you persevere, it would have already converted some of the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere into oxygen for the first time. It is also the first time that such a feat has been attempted and succeeded on another planet.

The demonstration took place on April 20, the day after the creation was completed. During this first test, MOXIE would have been produced Five grams of oxygen, Or enough to allow an astronaut to have a normal activity with Breathe for ten minutes.

NASA engineers will now run more tests and try to increase production of the case. If successful, we can imagine a much larger technology launched before the first manned launches to Mars. That way, we can then produce enough oxygen to make sure the astronauts can return home, even before they leave Earth.

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