Since 2021, a lunchbox-sized robot has produced oxygen on Mars.
MOXIE was part of NASA’s Perseverance rover mission, according to MIT. In the past year and a half, “MOXIE was able to create oxygen on seven experimental runs,” MIT reports.
MIT compared MOXIE’s oxygen output to “a little tree on Earth.” (How much a braggadocious tree produces is uncertain.) A bigger version of the gadget might pump out significantly more oxygen, and even this little amount could be a breakthrough in Mars exploration.
“MOXIE is designed to fit onboard the Perseverance rover and run for brief periods, starting up and shutting down with each run,” MIT adds. A full-scale oxygen plant would have bigger, continuous-running machines.
No single tree contributes all of Earth’s oxygen, and few fit in lunch boxes. It seems reasonable that technology capable of creating oxygen on Mars would need to be big—or at least bigger than the current version of MOXIE—and able to operate constantly.
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MOXIE’s oxygen production from Martian air
The MOXIE mechanism filters incoming Martian air. Pressurized air is delivered via a Solid OXide Electrolyzer (SOXE). SOXE splits CO2-rich air electrochemically into oxygen ions and CO2. Separated oxygen ions recombine to generate O2, breathable oxygen.
The goal is to send a scaled-up version of MOXIE to Mars before people arrive. According to experts, when people reach Mars, the system should produce enough oxygen to sustain them and power a rocket for the return trip to Earth.