If successful, NASA MOXIE could support human exploration of Mars. In tests, it produced up to six grams of oxygen per hour, enough to launch a MAV. The system also produced oxygen at extreme atmospheric densities. However, there were compromises that had to be made in its design, including the loss of mobility and power. These compromises affect the design of future scaled-up versions of the MOXIE system.
NASA MOXIE produces six grams of oxygen per hour
The MOXIE device is a small machine that has successfully produced oxygen on Mars. The machine can produce six grams of oxygen per hour. That is equivalent to the output of a modest tree on Earth. Its researchers hope to scale up the device and eventually make it capable of producing oxygen at a rate that is comparable to a few hundred trees. That will help astronauts in future missions to Mars and could even fuel rockets.
The MOXIE team includes scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and multiple institutions that are working with NASA to develop the system. The team is responsible for managing the system’s development and flight software. The team’s goal is to get the device to Mars by 2021.
The MOXIE instrument will not fill the tanks with oxygen, but will produce six grams of oxygen per hour. Scientists will track the success of MOXIE by monitoring its output by using three independent measures. These include the fluorescent molecule, electrical current, and a compressor hum.
It could be used to launch a MAV
Scientists are using the MOXIE as a test platform to determine if it could be used to launch a MAV to Mars. This concept is known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Basically, MOXIE works by drawing oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide. This oxygen gas is then measured. In a human mission, astronauts will need oxygen for breathing and rocket propellant. Therefore, producing oxygen on Mars would make the trip easier and safer. This technology would make the first crewed mission to Mars cheaper and easier.
Oxygen is the primary component of MAV propellant. The fuel carries oxygen, which is 78% of the mass. Therefore, carrying the fuel from Earth would create an oxidizer on Mars, which would be a huge advantage until a water mining operation can be set up.
In addition to making liquid oxygen, MOXIE also purifies the air on Mars. It does this by electrolysis, splitting carbon dioxide into two molecules, carbon monoxide and oxygen. Afterwards, it releases the oxygen and carbon monoxide back into the atmosphere.
It has been tested at extremes of atmospheric density
NASA’s Perseverance rover mission has been testing a method to produce oxygen on Mars, called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE. The system has been working at Mars for over a year, and has produced as much as five grams of oxygen per hour in seven experimental runs. In addition, the system was tested during different Martian seasons.
The device works by pulling oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide and measuring the oxygen gas. However, scientists are unsure how well the device will work in different conditions. For instance, atmospheric density changes 30% from winter to summer, so it will be crucial to make sure the device works well during those extremes.
The atmospheric pressure on Mars can fluctuate by 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and colossal dust storms can swallow the whole globe. The extreme changes in pressure can also cause air pressure jumps of up to 12 percent. Understanding these extremes would help engineers design full-scale systems that would withstand these conditions.
It could be used to support human exploration of Mars
MOXIE is a robotic system that has the potential to support human exploration of Mars. NASA engineers will test the system this spring before deciding if it’s ready for human exploration. MOXIE will not have a tank full of oxygen and instead use an electrical current, fluorescent molecule, and microphones to track its success. The results will provide vital information for scientists planning a human mission to Mars.
The MOXIE unit operates intermittently, putting a large amount of thermal stress on materials during each heating cycle. Because of this, MOXIE has to be able to handle this thermal stress without deteriorating. The Perseverance operation has shown successful reductions in cycle-to-cycle degradation, but due to energy constraints, it’s not yet possible to test how long the MOXIE can last if it’s operated continuously. However, these tests are planned as part of a continuing laboratory program.
The MOXIE project has successfully converted local carbon dioxide into oxygen. Its success is a huge step forward for human exploration of Mars. This technology is already proving to be highly reliable, and it would eliminate the need for Earth-launched oxygen to Mars.