Oxygen on Mars: How MIT’s “lunchbox-sized” device is producing breathable O2

These days, the planet Mars usually turns up in Elon Musk’s plans for space. The tech mogul wants to build human colonies on the red planet. The execution of the idea may be years away but Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, a lunchbox-sized device, has been successfully generating oxygen from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere of Mar since April 2021, the institute proudly announced via a website post.
According to MIT, the MOXIE started producing oxygen about two months after reaching Mars as part of NASA’s Perseverance rover and Mars 2020 mission.
“In a study published today [Aug 31] in the journal Science Advances, researchers report that, by the end of 2021, MOXIE was able to produce oxygen on seven experimental runs, in a variety of atmospheric conditions, including during the day and night, and through different Martian seasons. In each run, the instrument reached its target of producing six grams of oxygen per hour — about the rate of a modest tree on Earth.”, says the post.
How MOXIE produces oxygen from Martian air
The MOXIE system first draws the Martian air in through a filter which cleans the air of contaminants. The air is then pressurised, and sent through an instrument called Solid OXide Electrolyzer (SOXE). The SOXE electrochemically splits the CO2-rich air into oxygen ions and carbon monoxide.The oxygen ions are later separated and recombined to form O2, the breathable form of oxygen.
The vision
The vision is to develop a scaled-up version of MOXIE that can continuously produce oxygen at the rate of several hundred trees and send it to Mars just ahead of sending humans there. As per the researchers, by the time the humans reach Mars, the system should be able to make enough oxygen to sustain humans and also, fuel a rocket to the return trip to Earth.

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