Transform Martian air into oxygen: successful operation for Perseverance!

Extrait du premier panorama de Mars photographié avec la Mastcam-Z de Perseverance. © Nasa, JPL-Caltech

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[EN VIDÉO] Perseverance’s incredible landing on Mars NASA’s Perseverance Mars 2020 mission has captured fascinating images of its rover’s landing in the Martian crater Jezero on February 18, 2021. © Nasa / JPL-Caltech Perseverance has been 18 months of surveys the Martian soil, with a whole series of instruments and experimental equipment on board. Among others, a small box called Moxie for the Mars Oxygen In Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. The Moxie instrument has certainly gone unnoticed in the face of new discoveries made by NASA’s Mars rover. However, its role is crucial to the preparation of a possible manned mission to the Red Planet. Because if the absence of free oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars does not interfere in any way with the operation of Perseverance, this is not the case for future astronauts, who will need a substantial reserve of oxygen to live on the surface of the planet for several months. Oxygen, an essential element in the preparation of future manned missions With this in mind, two options are possible: importing oxygen from Earth, or producing this element directly on Mars. Since the first solution was expensive in terms of space and fuel, scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) studied the second option. That’s how Moxie integrated into Perseverance: As soon as it landed, the tiny instrument began to work and produce oxygen from the CO2-rich Martian atmosphere. The results were quickly very promising (see our previous article, below). However, it remained to test the operation of the system over time, but also in highly variable atmospheric conditions. In fact, the Martian atmosphere is subject to significant variations, particularly in temperature and density, especially between day and night, but also between the different seasons. Thus, during the year, the air density can vary by a factor of 2 and the temperature by 100 °C. Optimal operation in all seasons A new study, published in Science Advances, takes stock of these 18 months of operation. And of course the operation is quite successful for Moxie. In each test, the instrument achieved its goal of producing six grams of pure oxygen per hour, equivalent to the amount produced by a small tree on Earth, but it was not clear that Moxie could withstand the thermal stress ruled the planet and works optimally in all seasons. Now the goal is to push oxygen production to its maximum during the Martian spring, but also to test the device’s operation at dawn and dusk, two hours of the day when the temperature changes rapidly and significantly. Large-scale production before a future manned mission If the latest tests prove conclusive, this system, on a larger scale and operating continuously, could be considered to produce oxygen before the arrival of a manned mission. The goal would be to produce the same amount as several hundred trees. This would not only meet the needs of the astronauts, but also fill the tanks in anticipation of their return from Earth. This experiment is particularly notable for being the first in situ use of Martian resources. A first that could pave the way for the use of other materials from the planet to support life for astronauts on the surface of Mars. Perseverance: Oxygen has been produced on another planet for the first time! For Perseverance, NASA’s last rover to land on Mars since last February, the successes continue. NASA has just announced something new: an instrument on board has just produced oxygen using the elements available on site. Article by Nathalie Mayer published on April 27, 2021 If humans want to conquer the planet Mars one day, they will have to ‘to learn. how to produce your oxygen on the spot. Using elements from this world’s environment. It is with this in mind that NASA engineers envisioned the In Situ Oxygen Resource Utilization Experiment on Mars. A car-battery-sized demonstrator affectionately named Moxie, brought to the Red Planet by the Perseverance rover, was tested for the first time on Tuesday, April 20. with success Moxie has converted some of the oxygen (O) from Mars’ thin atmosphere into an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide (CO2). It produced about five grams, enough to allow an astronaut to breathe for 10 minutes, the goal of one day seeing humans on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. in a statement. “Oxygen is not just what we breathe. Our rocket boosters depend on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on the production of oxygen on Mars to get home. “Before we continue, let’s take a look at some numbers. NASA says a rocket would need 25 tons of oxygen to lift off from the Martian surface and seven tons of fuel to return to Earth. It would take a ton of Moxie to produce that much oxygen. While the one attached to the front right of the Perseverance rover weighs less than 20 kilograms. But keep in mind that during an entire year spent on Mars, a human colonist would only consume one ton of oxygen. Another big first: converting CO2 into oxygen on Mars. Working off the ground with what’s already there, my MOXIE instrument has proven that it can be done! Future explorers will need to generate oxygen for rocket fuel and to breathe on the red planet.— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 21, 2021 Oxygen production cycles to arrive To avoid having to transport so much oxygen from Earth to Mars, engineers s ‘have therefore imagined recovering with emissions of carbon monoxide (CO): the oxygen atoms available in the CO2 that make up 96% of Mars’ tenuous atmosphere. The Moxie demonstrator was initially supposed to show the possibility of making this instrument travel to the Red Planet. Then move on to experimental oxygen extraction for the next two years. Note that the process of splitting atoms occurs at temperatures of about 800°C. So the Moxie was designed accordingly. From nickel alloy pieces that heat and cool the gases that pass through them, an airgel that helps retain the heat, and a thin layer of gold that prevents it from radiating outwards and causing damage. other parts of Perseverance. Now that the first test has completed successfully. , the production cycles will develop as follows. A first phase will be used to verify and characterize the operation of the instrument. A second phase will operate the instrument in different atmospheric conditions, such as different times of day and different seasons. In a third phase, the engineers aim to “exceed the limits” by testing new modes of operation, for example. Interested in what you just read?
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