A mission to Mars could make its own oxygen via plasma technology

October 18, 2017, Institute of Physics
Mars
Credit: NASA

Plasma technology could hold the key to creating a sustainable oxygen supply on Mars, a new study has found.

It suggests that Mars, with its 96 per cent carbon dioxide atmosphere, has nearly ideal conditions for creating from CO2 through a process known as decomposition.

Published today in the journal Plasma Sources Science and Technology, the research by the universities of Lisbon and Porto, and École Polytechnique in Paris, shows that the pressure and temperature ranges in the Martian atmosphere mean non-thermal (or non-equilibrium) can be used to produce oxygen efficiently.

Lead author Dr Vasco Guerra, from the University of Lisbon, said: "Sending a to Mars is one of the next major steps in our exploration of space. Creating a breathable environment, however, is a substantial challenge.

"Plasma reforming of CO2 on Earth is a growing field of research, prompted by the problems of climate change and production of solar fuels. Low temperature plasmas are one of the best media for CO2 decomposition – the split-up of the molecule into oxygen and carbon monoxide – both by direct electron impact, and by transferring electron energy into vibrational excitation."

Mars has excellent conditions for In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) by plasma. As well as its CO2 atmosphere, the cold surrounding atmosphere (on average about 210 Kelvin) may induce a stronger vibrational effect than that achievable on Earth. The low atmospheric temperature also works to slow the reaction, giving additional time for the separation of molecules.

Dr Guerra said: "The low plasma decomposition method offers a twofold solution for a manned to Mars. Not only would it provide a stable, reliable supply of oxygen, but as source of fuel as well, as has been proposed as to be used as a propellant mixture in rocket vehicles.

"This ISRU approach could help significantly simplify the logistics of a mission to Mars. It would allow for increased self-sufficiency, reduce the risks to the crew, and reduce costs by requiring fewer vehicles to carry out the mission."

Explore further: Breakthrough in direct activation of CO2 and CH4 into liquid fuels and chemicals

More information: Vasco Guerra et al. The case for in situ resource utilisation for oxygen production on Mars by non-equilibrium plasmas, Plasma Sources Science and Technology (2017). DOI: 10.1088/1361-6595/aa8dcc

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691Boat
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 18, 2017
It's unfortunate that this will never work, because we all know that scientists, especially when dealing with topics involving outer space, are plasma ignoramuses. Unfortunate.
/sarc
rrrander
not rated yet Oct 20, 2017
Neither NASA, China, Russia or D.B. Elon Musk will get to Mars in any meaningful way, probes only. You want to set-up a base on Mars capable of supporting say 50-100 people and do it in one shot? The only way to is resurrect the Project Orion rocket.
Merrit
5 / 5 (1) Oct 20, 2017
The issue isn't getting to Mars. We have many rovers to prove that. The issue is keeping people alive. Hence we send robots.

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