NASA will send a system to extract oxygen from the Mars Atmosphere in 2020
NASA plans to make oxygen, a central ingredient of rocket fuel, on Mars early in the next decade. Space agency officials on Thursday unveiled seven instruments they plan to put on a Martian rover that would launch in 2020, including two devices aimed at bigger future Mars missions.
MOXIE will produce about 22 grams (0.78 ounces) of oxygen per hour and will operate on at least 50 different Martian days during the course of the mission, MOXIE, short for Mars OXygen In situ resource utilization Experiment, was selected from 58 instrument proposals submitted by research teams around the world. The experiment, currently scheduled to launch in the summer of 2020, is a specialized reverse fuel cell whose primary function is to consume electricity in order to produce oxygen on Mars, where the atmosphere is 96 percent carbon dioxide.
If proven to work on the Mars 2020 mission, a MOXIE-like system could later be used to produce oxygen on a larger scale, both for life-sustaining activities for human travelers and to provide liquid oxygen needed to burn the rocket fuel for a return trip to Earth. Separately Brookhaven National Laboratory scientists have discovered a new catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide to methanol. The new system offers significantly higher activity than other catalysts now in use and the new system could make it easier to get normally unreactive CO2 to participate in these reactions.
The resulting catalyst converts CO2 to methanol more than a thousand times faster than plain copper particles, and almost 90 times faster than a common copper/zinc-oxide catalyst currently in industrial use. MOXIE will be designed and built as what Hecht calls a “fuel cell run in reverse.” In a normal fuel cell, fuel is heated together with an oxidizer, often oxygen, producing electricity. In this case, however, electricity produced by a separate machine would be combined with carbon dioxide from the Martian air to produce oxygen and carbon monoxide in a process called solid oxide electrolysis.