MOXIE turned Martian air into oxygen using microwaves, but now it’s time for a break • RECORD

NASA has paused the oxygen generation experiment installed on its Mars Perseverance rover.

The Mars Oxygen Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), a device roughly the size of a microwave oven, is designed to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. During its time on the Red Planet, it produced 122 grams of matter. Or according to NASA, approximately what a small dog breathes in 10 hours.

The MOXIE was run 16 times, reaching a peak of 12 grams of oxygen per hour. Its final run was on August 7, when it produced 9.8 grams. NASA and JPL’s Boffins said they were pleased with MOXIE’s performance. The rate of 12 grams per hour was twice NASA’s original goals, and the device operated in various conditions throughout the Martian year.

However, all good things must come to an end, and last week it was announced that MOXIE’s operations would end.

MOXIE, created by engineers and scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), used an electrochemical process in which oxygen is extracted from carbon dioxide pumped from the Martian atmosphere.

The process was slow. The incoming air was filtered to remove dust and then compressed and heated to 800 °C (1,470 °F). The oxygen can then be extracted and tested before being released back into the atmosphere. It took two hours to warm up the unit before the process could begin.

MOXIE was a somewhat unusual payload for the science-focused Perseverance rover that was intended for human exploration. It showed that it would be possible for a crew to survive on Mars as well as leave home using resources found on the surface. In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) is a hot topic within NASA and its partners as scientists consider how long-duration missions will operate.

NASA noted that the most important use of oxygen – aside from keeping the crew alive – would be as rocket propellant. However, they will be needed in large quantities.

“MOXIE has clearly served as an inspiration to the ISRU community,” said the instrument’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of MIT. “He showed that NASA was willing to invest in this type of future technology. He was a pioneer who influenced the exciting space resources industry.”

Despite the success of the experiment and the design lessons learned, there are no plans for MOXIE 2.0. Instead, the next step will be a large-scale system that includes a MOXIE-like oxygen generator and a way to liquefy and store the resulting oxygen. ®

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