Ian Patrick, FISM News
The list of NASA’s acheivements on Mars continues to grow.
According to a press release from April 21, an experimental piece of technology on the Perseverance rover was able to successfully convert some of the thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere on Mars into oxygen. The instrument, known as the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (or MOXIE), made about 5 grams of oxygen which is “equivalent to about 10 minutes worth of breathable oxygen for an astronaut.”
The process for MOXIE is as follows:
Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.
The conversion process requires high levels of heat to reach a temperature of approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 Celsius). To accommodate this, the MOXIE unit is made with heat-tolerant materials. These include 3D-printed nickel alloy parts, which heat and cool the gases flowing through it, and a lightweight aerogel that helps hold in the heat. A thin gold coating on the outside of MOXIE reflects infrared heat, keeping it from radiating outward and potentially damaging other parts of Perseverance.
MOXIE is expected to complete this oxygen conversion process at least nine more times within 1 Martian year, which equates to almost 2 years on Earth. This first conversion also acted as a test to ensure that MOXIE survived both the trip to and the landing on Mars.
There will be three different phases in MOXIE’s lifespan on Mars.
The first phase will check out and characterize the instrument’s function, while the second phase will run the instrument in varying atmospheric conditions, such as different times of day and seasons. In the third phase, Hecht said, “we’ll push the envelope” – trying new operating modes, or introducing “new wrinkles, such as a run where we compare operations at three or more different temperatures.”