Perseverance rover experiment produces record amount of oxygen on Mars

Inside the belly of the Perseverance rover, currently exploring Mars’s Jezero Crater, is a small box with a big job. The Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment or MOXIE aims to produce oxygen from Mars’s abundant carbon dioxide, paving the way for providing resources for future crewed missions to the Red Planet.

In the summer of this year, MOXIE tested out its fastest production of oxygen to date, making more than 10 grams of oxygen per hour. The device works by taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using some electricity, and turning it into oxygen and carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide can be released and the oxygen kept — making the system like a fuel cell run in reverse.

In this image, the gold-plated Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) Instrument shines after being installed inside the Perseverance rover.
In this image, the gold-plated Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) Instrument shines after being installed inside the Perseverance rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Just recently, MOXIE was run again and managed to surpass its previous milestone. In August this year, it produced a peak of 10.44 grams of oxygen per hour, and on November 28 it produced 10.56 grams per hour at peak. While that isn’t a lot of oxygen for most uses, it does demonstrate that MOXIE works on a small scale — and it could be scaled up to be much bigger and more efficient.

The idea is that a larger version of the device could be used for future crewed missions. The big concern isn’t making oxygen for astronauts to breathe, though that is obviously important too, rather it is making enough to use as an oxidizer for fuel for a rocket to take off from Mars. That requires large amounts of oxygen, which a system like this could be able to produce. According to NASA, such a larger-scale system could work 200 times faster than MOXIE and could produce oxygen for over a year.

“Eight years have passed since I began working on MOXIE as a graduate student at MIT,” writes MOXIE science team member Forrest Meyen about the recent run. “Over that time, I have grown with the project and dedicated my career to discovering and utilizing space resources. I’ve taken this moment to rejoice and reflect on the perseverance required to create foundational technologies for our next leap into the cosmos.”

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