MOXIE Could Help Future Rockets Launch Off Mars


NASA’s Perseverance rover carries a device to convert Martian air into oxygen that, if produced on a larger scale, could be used not just for breathing, but also for fuel.


One of the hardest things about sending astronauts to Mars will be getting them home. Launching a rocket off the surface of the Red Planet will require industrial quantities of oxygen, a crucial part of propellant: A crew of four would need about 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of it to produce thrust from 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel.

That’s a lot of propellant. But instead of shipping all that oxygen, what if the crew could make it out of thin (Martian) air? A first-generation oxygen generator aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover will test technology for doing exactly that.

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, is an experimental instrument that stands apart from Perseverance’s primary science. One of the rover’s main purposes is capturing returnable rock samples that could carry signs of ancient microbial life. While Perseverance has a suite of instruments geared toward helping achieve that goal, MOXIE is focused solely on the engineering required for future human exploration efforts.

Since the dawn of the space age, researchers have talked about in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU. Think of it as living off the land and using what’s available in the local environment. That includes things like finding water ice that could be melted for use or sheltering in caves, but also generating oxygen for rocket fuel and, of course, breathing.

Breathing is just a side benefit of MOXIE’s true goal, said Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the instrument’s principal investigator. Rocket propellant is the heaviest consumable resource that astronauts will need, so being able to produce oxygen at their destination would make the first crewed trip to Mars easier, safer, and cheaper.

“What people typically ask me is whether MOXIE is being developed so astronauts have something to breathe,” Hecht said. “But rockets breathe hundreds of times as much oxygen as people.”

Making Oxygen Requires Heat

Mars’ atmosphere poses a major challenge for human life and rocket propellant production. It’s only 1% as thick as Earth’s atmosphere and is 95% carbon dioxide.

MOXIE pulls in that air with a pump, then uses an electrochemical process to separate two oxygen atoms from each molecule of carbon dioxide, or CO2. As the gases flow through the system, they are analyzed to check how much oxygen has been produced, how pure it is, and how efficiently the system is working. All the gases are vented back into the atmosphere after each experiment is run.

Powering this electrochemical conversion requires a lot of heat – about 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 degrees Celsius). Because of those high temperatures, MOXIE, which is a little larger than a toaster, features a variety of heat-tolerant materials. Special 3D-printed nickel alloy parts help distribute the heat within the instrument, while superlight insulation called aerogel minimizes the power needed to keep it at operating temperatures. The outside of MOXIE is coated in a thin layer of gold, which is an excellent reflector of infrared heat and keeps those blistering temperatures from radiating into other parts of Perseverance.

“MOXIE is designed to make about 6 to 10 grams of oxygen per hour – just about enough for a small dog to breathe,” said Asad Aboobaker, a MOXIE systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “A full-scale system geared to make (propellant for the flight home) would need to scale up oxygen production by about 200 times what MOXIE will create.”

MOXIE engineer Asad Aboobaker of JPL explains how the instrument works in this video interview. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Future Martians

Hecht estimates that a full-scale MOXIE system on Mars might be a bit larger than a household stove and weigh around 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) – almost as much as Perseverance itself. Work is ongoing to develop a prototype for one in the near future.

The team expects to run MOXIE about 10 times over the course of one Mars year (two Earth years), allowing them to watch how well it works in varying seasons. The results will inform the design of future oxygen generators.

“The commitment to developing MOXIE shows that NASA is serious about this,” Hecht said. “MOXIE isn’t the complete answer, but it’s a critical piece of it. If successful, it will show that future astronauts can rely on this technology to help get them home safely from Mars.”

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with ESA (the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance:

mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/

nasa.gov/perseverance

News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

Alana Johnson / Grey Hautaluoma
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-672-4780 / 202-358-0668
alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov / grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov

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    Office of the [Read More…]
  • South Carolina Man Sentenced for Making a Bomb Threat to a Clinic and Lying to the FBI
    In Crime News
    Rodney Allen, 43, of Beaufort, South Carolina, was sentenced today in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida, to 24 months in prison. Allen previously pleaded guilty to one count of intimidating and interfering with the employees of an abortion clinic by making a bomb threat and one count of making false statements to a Special Agent with the FBI.
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  • Turks and Caicos Islands Travel Advisory
    In Travel
    Reconsider travel to the [Read More…]
  • Member of Neo-Nazi Group Sentenced for Plot to Target Journalists and Advocates
    In Crime News
    Johnny Roman Garza, 21, a member of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, was sentenced today to 16 months in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a plot to threaten and intimidate journalists and advocates who worked to expose anti-Semitism.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Warns Taxpayers to Avoid Fraudulent Tax Preparers
    In Crime News
    With less than one month left in this year’s tax season, the Department of Justice urges taxpayers to choose their return preparers wisely. Return preparer fraud is one of the IRS’ Dirty Dozen Tax Scams. Unscrupulous preparers who include errors or false information on a customer’s return could leave a taxpayer open to liability for unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest.
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  • Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Remarks at Virtual MOU Signing Ceremony with Korean Prosecution Service
    In Crime News
    It is with great pleasure that I sign this Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the Department of Justice alongside my good friend, Prosecutor General Yoon. Enhancing the ties between our agencies has been an important priority for me during my tenure as Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division. While only a few years ago we knew comparatively little about one another, our relationship has quickly blossomed into a strong and enduring friendship. I am extremely pleased that we have succeeded in developing important and lasting ties between our agencies, as underscored by our signing of this Memorandum of Understanding today.
    [Read More…]
  • Pennsylvania Attorney Sentenced for Role in $2.7 Million Ponzi Scheme
    In Crime News
    An Allentown, Pennsylvania, attorney was sentenced today to 78 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his role in a $2.7 million investment fraud scheme that victimized his law clients.
    [Read More…]
  • Florida Medical Doctor Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Falsify Clinical Trial Data
    In Crime News
    A Florida medical doctor pleaded guilty to conspiring to falsify clinical trial data regarding an asthma medication, the Department of Justice announced today.
    [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the Expansion of Access to the Central American Minors Program
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Guild Mortgage Company to Pay $24.9 Million to Resolve Allegations it Knowingly Caused False Claims for Federal Mortgage insurance
    In Crime News
    Guild Mortgage Company has agreed to pay the United States $24.9 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly breaching material program requirements when it originated and underwrote mortgages insured by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Department of Justice announced today.  Guild Mortgage Company is headquartered in San Diego, California, with branches across the United States.
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  • On the 6th Anniversary of the 709 Crackdown in China
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement on the United States – Iceland Strategic Dialogue
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • DOD Health Care: DOD Should Monitor Implementation of Its Clinical Practice Guidelines
    In U.S GAO News
    As of October 2020, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) had jointly developed 22 clinical practice guidelines (VA/DOD CPG) that address specific health conditions, including those related to chronic diseases, mental health issues, pain management, and rehabilitation. Such guidelines are important as military and veteran populations may have different health care needs than civilians due to involvement in combat or occupational exposures (e.g., fumes from burn pits) that may amplify physical and psychological stresses. GAO found that DOD and VA considered the health care needs of these populations throughout the guideline development process and that the guidelines include information about these health care needs in different sections. In some cases, the guidelines include treatment recommendations that specifically address the health care needs of the military and veteran populations. In other instances, they may include information about the prevalence of a specific condition for these populations, among other information. Each of the military services (Army, Air Force, and Navy) has its own process for distributing VA/DOD CPGs to providers at their military treatment facilities (MTF). However, DOD's Defense Health Agency (DHA) is in the process of assuming administrative operations—to include distributing guidelines—for all of the military services' MTFs through an incremental transition process that is to be completed by the end of September 2021. While DHA officials acknowledged that they need to develop a uniform distribution process for the guidelines once they complete the transition, MTF providers can currently access the guidelines through VA's designated website and DOD's electronic health record systems. Congress directed DOD to implement VA/DOD CPGs, using means such as providing education and training, and to monitor MTFs' implementation of them. However, GAO found that DHA and the military services are not systematically monitoring MTFs' implementation of these guidelines. While the Army tracks VA/DOD CPG education and training at its MTFs, officials with DHA, the Navy, and the Air Force explained that they have not been monitoring MTF implementation of these guidelines. DHA officials acknowledged that they need to develop a monitoring process as they assume administrative and oversight responsibilities for the military services' MTFs, but have not yet developed a plan to do so. Without a systematic process to monitor MTF implementation of these guidelines, DHA does not know the extent to which MTF providers may be using VA/DOD CPGs to reduce the variability and improve the quality of health care services provided—factors that may contribute to better health outcomes across the military health system. Through DOD's TRICARE program, eligible beneficiaries may receive care from providers at MTFs or from civilian providers. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 required DOD to establish a program to develop, implement, update, and monitor clinical practice guidelines, which are evidence-based treatment recommendations to improve the consistency and quality of care delivered by MTF providers. The Act also included a provision for GAO to assess issues related to the military health system, including the process of ensuring that providers adhere to clinical practice guidelines, and to report annually for 4 years. This is GAO's fourth report based on the Act. This report describes (1) how the process for developing the guidelines considers the health care needs of the military and veteran populations, (2) how they are distributed by the military services to their providers and how providers access them, and (3) the extent to which DHA and the military services monitor MTF implementation of them, among other things. GAO reviewed relevant policies and guidance; analyzed each of the 22 CPGs; and interviewed officials with DOD, the military services, and VA. GAO recommends that DHA work with the military services to develop and implement a systematic process to monitor MTFs' implementation of VA/DOD CPGs. DOD concurred with this recommendation. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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  • Substance Use Disorder: Medicaid Coverage of Peer Support Services for Adults
    In U.S GAO News
    Substance use disorders (SUD)—the recurrent use of alcohol or illicit drugs causing significant impairment—affected about 19.3 million adults in the United States in 2018, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. State Medicaid programs have the option to cover services offered by peer providers—individuals who use their own lived experience recovering from SUD to support others in recovery. GAO's review of Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission data found that, in 2018, 37 states covered peer support services for adults with SUDs in their Medicaid programs. Medicaid Coverage of Peer Support Services for Adults with Substance Use Disorders, 2018 Officials from the three states GAO reviewed—Colorado, Missouri, and Oregon—reported that their Medicaid programs offered peer support services as a complement, rather than as an alternative, to clinical treatment for SUD. Missouri officials said that peer providers did not maintain separate caseloads and were part of treatment teams, working in conjunction with doctors and other clinical staff. Similarly, officials in Colorado and Oregon said peer support services were only offered as part of a treatment plan. State officials reported that peer support services could be offered as an alternative to clinical treatment outside of Medicaid using state or grant funding. SUD treatment can help individuals reduce or stop substance use and improve their quality of life. In 2007, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recognized that peer providers could be an important component of effective SUD treatment, and provided guidance to states on how to cover peer support services in their Medicaid programs. However, states have flexibility in how they design and implement their Medicaid programs, and coverage for peer support services is an optional benefit. The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act included a provision for GAO to report on peer support services under Medicaid. This report describes, among other objectives, the extent to which state Medicaid programs covered peer support services for adult beneficiaries with SUDs nationwide, and how selected state Medicaid programs offered peer support services for adult beneficiaries with SUDs. GAO obtained state-by-state data from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission on 2018 Medicaid coverage of peer support services. GAO also reviewed information and interviewed officials from a nongeneralizable sample of three states, which GAO selected for a number of reasons, including to obtain variation in delivery systems used. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or yocomc@gao.gov.
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