According to the US Space Network, American scientists have designed a reactor by studying how comets generate oxygen molecules, in which they use carbon dioxide (CO2) to hit gold foil and obtain oxygen. They said that the new technology is expected to help future manned Mars exploration.
Mars is very far from the Earth, so saving oxygen on Mars can save a lot of money and effort.
A team led by former postdoctoral fellow of California Institute of Technology Yao Yunxi and professor of chemical engineering Konstantinos Kias found that comet’s molecular oxygen can also be produced by reaction. They therefore designed an experiment in which CO2 was struck onto the inert surface of the gold foil. The gold foil could not be oxidized and should not produce molecular oxygen, so oxygen could continue to be released from the gold surface. This means that both oxygen atoms are from the same CO2 molecule and they are effectively split in an unusual way.
The device that the Kias team designed to react is like a particle accelerator that charges oxygen molecules and then accelerates them with an electric field to produce oxygen molecules. Kias said that the reaction may also proceed at a slower rate, which may also explain why there is some oxygen floating in the Martian atmosphere.
Scientists previously thought that the thin oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars may be produced by the sun’s ultraviolet rays illuminating the CO2 molecules in the air of Mars. But Kias believes that when the atmospheric particles are accelerated to high-speed dust particles hitting CO2 molecules, they also produce Mars oxygen.
The reactor used by Kias is very inefficient, producing only one or two oxygen molecules per 100 CO2 molecules. But he said the reactor would be further refined to create breathable air for astronauts on Mars. On Earth, this reactor may also help convert atmospheric CO2 into oxygen.
In addition, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is about to test oxygen generation technology on Mars. A demonstration platform called “Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment” will be launched next summer with the “Mars 2020” detector and landed in Mars in February 2021. The experiment will use electrochemical methods to decompose CO2 in the atmosphere, and NASA hopes to clarify whether this method can be scaled up to support people who may live on Mars in the future.