MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment) is lowered into the chassis of NASA’s Perseverance in 2019

MOXIE: Innovative tech extracting Oxygen from Mars’s Atmosphere

The success of the MOXIE device onboard of Perseverance rover opens the door to a future where humans can potentially colonize Mars

The innovative technology known as MOXIE, short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, has successfully completed its scientific mission aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. The device extracted oxygen from the Martian atmosphere 16 times, and each successful demonstration permitted the storage of valuable data for future Mars missions.

Moreover, thanks to these experiments, engineers can refine the techniques necessary for larger-scale oxygen production given that the Martian atmosphere is composed mainly of carbon dioxide and it could be really challenging to provide enough oxygen for future astronauts and inhabitants.

Oxygen is essential both for creating breathable air for astronauts and as propellant for space rockets. The ability to process and reuse the resources funded in the mission location will allow a reduction of the mass of the load of the rocket and therefore simplify the expedition, making them less expensive and more efficient.

Audio of MOXIE’s air compressor at work on Mars captured by the microphone on Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument on May 27, 2021. Credits: NASA

The device has been designed and built by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). According to a NASA press release, it has produced 122 grams of oxygen, the equivalent of 10 hours of breathable air for a small-sized dog. To be specific, it has managed to produce up to 12 grams of oxygen per hour with a purity of 98%, surpassing NASA’s original expectations.

“Developing technologies that let us use resources on the Moon and Mars is critical to build a long-term lunar presence, create a robust lunar economy, and allow us to support an initial human exploration campaign to Mars”

— Pam Melroy, NASA Deputy Administrator


Moxie’s Mission

The most recent analysis took place on August 7th of this year, during which 9.8 grams of oxygen were produced. The engineers chose to operate MOXIE in various environmental conditions, adapting the device both to fluctuations of pressure present in the Martian atmosphere and to movements as the NASA Perseverance rover moved across the surface.

MOXIE functional block diagram. Credits: NASA
MOXIE functional block diagram. Credits: NASA

MOXIE operates through a process called “solid oxide electrolysis”:

  1. CO2 Collection: extraction of CO2 from the surrounding Martian atmosphere (mainly composed of CO2, up to 95%);
  2. Transformation in Solid Oxide Electrolysis: The extracted CO2 is then directed into a high-temperature solid oxide electrolysis stack made of ceramic materials capable of withstanding extreme conditions;
  3. Separation of Oxygen and Carbon Monoxide: Inside the stack, CO2 molecules are decomposed under high temperature, separating into oxygen (O2) and carbon monoxide (CO);
  4. Purification and Storage: the oxygen generated through this process is then purified and stored in a dedicated tank, ready for future use;
  5. Release of Carbon Monoxide: the carbon monoxide produced as a byproduct is released into the Martian atmosphere.
MOXIE instrument with the front cover removed, showing the main components. Credits: NASA
MOXIE instrument with the front cover removed, showing the main components. Credits: NASA


Collected data

For instance, in the following tab, it is possible to read and understand better the results obtained. Four oxygen-producing cycles successfully completed by MOXIE in 2021 are reported:

Experimental DATA. Credits: Paper Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE)
Experimental DATA. Credits: Paper Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE)

Indeed, a significant objective of MOXIE is to demonstrate its practical functionality not only during Martian daytimes but also during nights, across all Martian seasons. This demonstrates its resilience in adapting to fluctuations in atmospheric pressure and temperature.

All previous research has been published in the scientific paper named “Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE)—Preparing for human Mars exploration”.

The future development does not involve constructing MOXIE 2.0. Instead, the next step would be to develop a full-scale system equipped with an oxygen generator and a new device in order to liquefy and store that oxygen.


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Beatrice Romeo

Beatrice Romeo

Master student in Aerospace Engineering.
Ocean activist and kitesurfing athlete.

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