Could MOXIE help blast potential rockets off Mars?


Bringing them home would be one of the toughest things about sending astronauts to Mars. Industrial amounts of oxygen, a critical element of the propellant, would be needed to launch a rocket off the Red Planet’s surface: a crew of four will require about 25 metric tons (55,000 pounds) of it to create thrust from 7 metric tons (15,000 pounds) of the rocket fuel. That is a great deal of propellant. But what if the crew could make it out of thin (Martian) air instead of shipping all of the oxygen? A first-generation oxygen generator would test technologies to do just that onboard NASA’s Perseverance rover.

A scientific instrument that stands apart from the primary science of Perseverance is the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Use Experiment or MOXIE. The acquisition of returnable rock samples that may hold evidence of ancient microbial life is one of the rover’s key goals. Although Perseverance has a range of resources to help accomplish this purpose, MOXIE focuses solely on the engineering needed for future human discovery efforts. Researchers have spoken about in-situ resource use, or ISRU, since the beginning of the space era. Think of it as living off the soil in the natural area and using what’s available. This entails discovering water ice that could be dissolved in caves for use or sheltering and producing oxygen for rocket fuel and breathing, of course.

Breathing is only a side advantage of MOXIE’s real objective, said Michael Hecht, the principal investigator of the instrument who works at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rocket propellant is the greatest consumable resource that astronauts can need, so generating oxygen at their destination will make it simpler, safer, and cheaper for the first crew trip to Mars. Michael went on to say that many people ask him is if MOXIE is being made so that the space explorers have something to breathe. However, yet rockets breathe more oxygen than humans do. The atmosphere of Mars poses a huge threat to human survival and the development of rocket propellants. It’s just 1% as dense as the ozone on Earth, and it’s 95% carbon dioxide.

MOXIE pulls a pump into the air and uses an electrochemical procedure to remove two atoms of oxygen from each carbon dioxide or CO2 molecule. They are measured to check how much oxygen has been produced as the gases pass through the device, how pure it is, and how it operates effectively. All the gases are relayed into the atmosphere after every experiment is run.