MOXIE — about the size of a car battery — works like a tree to breathe in the carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen that can support a crew’s breathing needs and be used as the fuel oxidizer for an ascent vehicle. The unit collects carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and electrochemically splits the molecules into oxygen and carbon. The oxygen is then analyzed for purity before being vented back out into the Mars atmosphere, along with the carbon and other exhaust products. By using the resources available on location, or in-situ, expeditions become more affordable and more sustainable and the fuel and oxygen payload requirement for Earth launches is significantly reduced.
Liquid oxygen created on the surface of Mars could supply more than 75 percent of the propellant humans need for exploration on the Red Planet. To launch a spacecraft from Mars, explorers need roughly 33 to 50 tons of fuel — about the weight of a space shuttle. Human missions will require a much larger oxygen generator, about 100 times larger than the test model.
MOXIE is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Technology Demonstration Missions program. The project is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.