Perseverance Made a Bit of Oxygen on Mars, New Solution Could Make More, Easier

Thermal swing sorption/desorption could be used to make oxygen on Mars 10 photos
Photo: Ivan Ermanoski/Arizona State University
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Once we get the colonization of Mars going, it will all look amazing for everyone left here back on Earth. Habitation modules spread on the surface of the planet, rovers to move people around between them, and Mars Ascent Vehicles (MAVs) to get them off the planet, will all work together to create the image of humanity’s next frontier. But such a thing becoming a reality relies heavily on the success of a single thing: in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).
ISRU is a concept of making use of the resources already available at the point of exploration, and one of its most important elements, at least for us humans and our hardware, is oxygen.

Mars does not have all that much of it (about 0.16 percent), but there are ways we can generate it. None of those ways are quite like terraforming, meaning generating enough of it to make the entire planet suitable for human life, but some may prove enough for our immediate goals.

The Perseverance rover proved it could be done by using the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), an instrument it used to separate the oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules (Mars has 96 percent carbon dioxide in its atmosphere).

Although tiny, the amount of oxygen took a great deal of work to make, and someone named Ivan Ermanoski, from the Arizona State University, believes there’s a simpler, far more efficient way of doing that.

It’s called thermal swing sorption/desorption (TSSD), and it requires a two-step, thermally-driven cycle taking place at a maximum temperature of below 260 degrees Celsius (minus 436 degrees Fahrenheit). According to the scientists, the TSSD should be ten times more efficient than MOXIE, as it’ll use just 4 kW instead of the 30 kW the Perseverance instrument needed to make the same amount of the gas (about five grams of it, ten minutes worth of breathable air for an astronaut).

TSSD could be fitted in habitats, MAVs and rovers, where the scientist estimates “power for oxygen production is only ~50 W/person.”

Although we’re not told how much oxygen a TSSD system could generate, or how exactly it should work, the idea seemed interesting enough for NASA, so the space agency awarded the scientist an Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I grant.

We’re not informed as to when we could expect a working prototype.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows European-made hardware to be used for extracting oxygen on the Moon.

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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