Science & Technology

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Produces Oxygen on Mars – Key “First” for Human Exploration of the Red Planet

This illustration depicts NASA’s Perseverance rover working on the floor of Mars. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The milestone, which the MOXIE instrument achieved by changing carbon dioxide into oxygen, factors the solution to future human exploration of the Red Planet.

The rising checklist of “firsts” for Perseverance, NASA’s latest six-wheeled robotic on the Martian floor, consists of changing some of the Red Planet’s skinny, carbon dioxide-rich environment into oxygen. A toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard Perseverance referred to as the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Useful resource Utilization Experiment () completed the job. The check befell April 20, the sixtieth Martian day, or sol, since the on February 18.

Whereas the know-how demonstration is simply getting began, it may pave the means for science fiction to turn into science truth – isolating and storing oxygen on Mars to assist energy rockets that would raise astronauts off the planet’s floor. Such units additionally would possibly someday present breathable air for astronauts themselves. MOXIE is an exploration know-how investigation – as is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer () climate station – and is sponsored by NASA’s House Expertise Mission Directorate (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Technicians at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory decrease the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Useful resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the stomach of the Perseverance rover. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“It is a essential first step at changing carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” stated Jim Reuter, affiliate administrator STMD. “MOXIE has extra work to do, however the outcomes from this know-how demonstration are full of promise as we transfer towards our aim of someday seeing people on Mars. Oxygen isn’t simply the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant relies upon on oxygen, and future explorers will rely on producing propellant on Mars to make the journey dwelling.”

For rockets or astronauts, oxygen is essential, stated MOXIE’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise’s Haystack Observatory.

To burn its gasoline, a rocket should have extra oxygen by weight. To get 4 astronauts off the Martian floor on a future mission would require roughly 15,000 kilos (7 metric tons) of rocket gasoline and 55,000 kilos (25 metric tons) of oxygen. In distinction, astronauts dwelling and dealing on Mars would require far much less oxygen to breathe. “The astronauts who spend a 12 months on the floor will perhaps use one metric ton between them,” Hecht stated.

After a two-hour warmup interval, MOXIE started producing oxygen at a price of 6 grams per hour. The was lowered two instances throughout the run (labeled as “present sweeps”) so as to assess the standing of the instrument. After an hour of operation the whole oxygen produced was about 5.4 grams, sufficient to maintain an astronaut wholesome for about 10 minutes of regular exercise. Credit score: MIT Haystack Observatory

Hauling 25 metric tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars could be an arduous job. Transporting a one-ton oxygen converter – a bigger, extra highly effective descendant of MOXIE that would produce these 25 tons – could be way more economical and sensible.

Mars’ environment is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, that are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian environment.

The conversion course of requires excessive ranges of warmth to achieve a temperature of roughly 1,470 levels Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). To accommodate this, the MOXIE unit is made with heat-tolerant supplies. These embody 3D-printed nickel alloy components, which warmth and funky the gases flowing by it, and a light-weight aerogel that helps maintain in the warmth. A skinny gold coating on the outdoors of MOXIE displays infrared warmth, holding it from radiating outward and doubtlessly damaging different components of Perseverance.

MOXIE collects carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Martian environment and electrochemically splits it into oxygen and carbon monoxide molecules. Credit score: NASA/JPL

On this first operation, MOXIE’s oxygen manufacturing was fairly modest – about 5 grams, equal to about 10 minutes’ price of breathable oxygen for an astronaut. MOXIE is designed to generate as much as 10 grams of oxygen per hour.

This know-how demonstration was designed to make sure the instrument survived the launch from Earth, a virtually seven-month journey by deep house, and landing with Perseverance on Feb. 18. MOXIE is anticipated to extract oxygen at the very least 9 extra instances over the course of a Martian 12 months (practically two years on Earth).

These oxygen-production runs will are available in three phases. The primary part will take a look at and characterize the instrument’s perform, whereas the second part will run the instrument in various atmospheric situations, comparable to totally different instances of day and seasons. In the third part, Hecht stated, “we’ll push the envelope” – making an attempt new working modes, or introducing “new wrinkles, comparable to a run the place we examine operations at three or extra totally different temperatures.”

Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) is an exploration know-how investigation that may produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. Credit score: NASA

“MOXIE isn’t simply the first instrument to provide oxygen on one other world,” stated Trudy Kortes, director of know-how demonstrations inside STMD. It’s the first know-how of its form that may assist future missions “stay off the land,” utilizing parts of one other world’s setting, also referred to as in-situ useful resource utilization.

“It’s taking regolith, the substance you discover on the floor, and placing it by a processing plant, making it into a big construction, or taking carbon dioxide – the bulk of the environment – and changing it into oxygen,” she stated. “This course of permits us to transform these ample supplies into useable issues: propellant, breathable air, or, mixed with hydrogen, water.”

Extra About Perseverance

A key goal of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, together with the search for indicators of historic microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and previous local weather, pave the means for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to gather and cache Martian rock and regolith (damaged rock and dirt).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European House Company), would ship spacecraft to Mars to gather these sealed samples from the floor and return them to Earth for in-depth evaluation.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is a component of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, which incorporates Artemis missions to the Moon that may assist put together for human exploration of the Red Planet.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, constructed and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

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