The Moxie experiment aboard the NASA rover generates oxygen like a small tree
This was demonstrated by the Moxie (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) experiment, aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover, which since landing on the Red Planet in February 2021 has managed to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere in reliably both day and night and in every season of the year, reaching the goal of producing six grams per hour, as much as a small tree on Earth.
The result is published in Science Advances by a team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The Moxie experiment is the size of a car battery and in 2021 it was operated seven times for several hours each, so as not to interfere with Perseverance’s activities. In the future, however, a larger version could be sent to Mars to continuously produce oxygen, as would several hundred trees.
According to the researchers, such a system could generate enough oxygen to support astronauts arriving on the planet and to power a rocket for their return to Earth.
“This is the first demonstration of the actual use of resources on the surface of another planetary body and their chemical transformation into something that could be useful for a human mission,” says Moxie deputy manager Jeffrey Hoffman of MIT. “In this sense it is something historical”.
To produce breathable oxygen, Moxie sucks in the Martian air and through a filter cleans it of contaminants. Once pressurized, the air is sent to the Soxe instrument (SolidOXide Electrolyzer), which breaks down carbon dioxide into oxygen ions and carbon monoxide. The oxygen ions are then isolated and recombined to form respirable molecular oxygen, which Moxie measures the quantity and purity of before safely releasing it into the air, along with carbon monoxide and other atmospheric gases.