Mars

Perseverance Produces Oxygen on Mars

The Perseverance Rover carries a device called MOXIE which can generate oxygen. Since the rover’s touchdown on Mars this device has been periodically generating oxygen in many different conditions on Mars.

This is exciting news when it comes to putting people on Mars. This means the oxygen they need could be generated at their landing point before they’ve even left. They’ll need oxygen to breath, but it’s also essential for fuelling any rocket that would get them back to Earth.

The full name for the device is “Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment”, this simply means that it extracts oxygen from the available resources that already exist on Mars. In this instance the resource is the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mars – the atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide so there is plenty to convert.

It has so far been tested seven times both in the day time and night time, and throughout several seasons of Mars, and it has successfully generated its target amount of oxygen every time. The temperature on Mars and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changes daily and seasonally, so it needed to prove it would work in these different conditions. It will continue to be tested and should complete a whole Martian year soon.

MOXIE is about the size of a car battery. Here it is being installed at NASA. Imagine this a hundred times larger.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This device was an experiment, designed to be compact and light so that it could fit on, and be carried by, Perseverance and it was therefore only capable of producing a few grams of oxygen. A device capable of generating enough oxygen for a crew on Mars would need to be a hundred times larger to produce the estimated tens of tons of oxygen needed. The scaling up of the device is an ongoing project.

References:

  • NASA’s Moxie page: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/instruments/moxie/
  • MIT lead MOXIE project: https://news.mit.edu/2022/moxie-oxygen-mars-0831
  • Partly built by OxEon Energy: https://oxeonenergy.com/news/MOXIE-Makes-Oxygen-on-Mars
  • Published paper: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abp8636

Images:

  • Moxie installation: https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/25288/moxie-lowered-into-rover/
  • Rover selfie: https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/26253/perseverances-selfie-at-rochette/

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