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NASA’s MOXIE Experiment Is Generating Oxygen on Mars

It may take longer for any astronaut to land on Mars—NASA It’s talking about the early 2030s, while SpaceX’s Elon Musk promises it will be sooner. But when humans land They may have found the successor of MOXIE waiting for them. All crew members traveling to Mars will have their own equipment onboard the spacecraft, which produces oxygen for breathing. So a bigger problem to fix is ​​building a rocket that will be used to fly home. “If you want to burn fuel You need oxygen to burn it,” Hecht says.

Hecht said a crew of four needed only 1.5 metric tons of oxygen per year for life support, but about 25 tons to produce 7 tons of propulsion from rocket fuel. The easiest was to deliver the automation six months before the crew arrived. To provide astronauts with oxygen waiting for them. It also means they will have to carry fewer devices from the world. “It̵

7;s not worth the complexity to bring so many devices to produce 25 tons of oxygen for the propulsion,” Hecht said.

Some of these same calculations are being considered for future lunar missions. This could happen much faster than a trip to Mars. Teams from NASA and ESA are working to warm the lunar soil, known as regolith, to extract oxygen. In fact, regolith is 45% oxygen by weight, binding to metallic elements such as silicon, aluminum, calcium, magnesium, iron and titanium, according to Beth Lomax, a doctoral student at the University of Glasgow and researcher at ESA’s European research centre. and space technology in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

Lomax and Alexandre Meurisse, a friend at the research center, developed a device to heat the regolith in a canister with molten salt to extract oxygen. Like the MOXIE project, they use electricity to separate oxygen from the other elements, but unlike MOXIE, they have a by-product: a metal element that might be useful as a building material for the lunar base. Separately, the ESA is looking to combine astronaut urine with regolith to create a reusable geopolymer building material similar to fly ash).

Lomax said it made sense to figure out how to take advantage of what’s already on the lunar surface. instead of taking it out of the world “As long-term space exploration and habitat seem to become more real, Resource use is therefore necessary,” Lomax said. “It is impossible for us to bring every material The kilograms that we regularly need from the world We have this enormous gravitational hole. And the amount of energy needed to bring that material into space is enormous.”

Using molten salt containers, Lomax and Meurisse are reducing the temperature needed to extract oxygen from the lunar soil. This brings the temperature down from 1600 degrees Celsius (2,912 Fahrenheit) to about 600 C (1,112 F). That temperature can be reached by centralized solar power. This is a proven method in solar power plants in the southwestern United States.

at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Researchers are working on a way to remove the metal byproducts that have accumulated in the reactor with regoliths during electrolysis. That is important because the molten material is highly corrosive. And both metal and oxygen need to be extracted in some way, according to NASA researcher Kevin Grossman. The goal is to dissolve the regolith without touching the sides of the container. “If you bring one regolith barrel And you want to melt the size of a golf ball in the middle of it. How are you going to get it?” Grossman asked.

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