NASA awards 900,000-dollar grant for Mars oxygen extraction research

If successful, the project will first help the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon.

College of the Desert has received a grant amounting to 900,000 dollars from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for a groundbreaking research initiative focused on oxygen extraction from Mars.

The M-STAR grant, awarded to only nine colleges nationwide, aims to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) academic offerings at Minority-Serving Institutions, College of the Desert (COD) announced on its blog

The project, titled "A Penetrolyzer for Extracting Oxygen and Hydrogen from Mars Regolith," is geared towards making life on Mars sustainable and is led by Ahmed ElShafie, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at COD.

The research emphasizes the support of humans in future Mars exploration and aligns with NASA's mission for upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon.

The proposed prototype, designed by a team of professors including ElShafie, physicist Michael Gariety, and astronomer Amira Elsenousy, involves a Penetrolyzer approximately 15 centimeters in length with a diameter of 1 to 5 centimeters.

This instrument would penetrate Mars soil, initiating an electrolyzing process to extract oxygen and hydrogen.

David Jackson, a student collaborator in the project, will provide expertise in computer programming, electronics, 3D printing, and systems integration.

The innovative approach focuses on exploiting brines found in Martian soil, containing hygroscopic and stable compounds like perchlorate. Despite the toxicity of perchlorates, the researchers aim to turn this challenge into an advantage, extracting oxygen from the soil instead of the air.

The project anticipates conducting over 1,200 tests over the next three years, simulating Martian conditions in a specialized chamber. Collaborators from the University of Arkansas and Nanomatronix will also assess the prototype's resilience under harsh conditions.

More to read:
NASA technology generated oxygen on Mars

The team plans to scale up the project, eventually deploying rovers to Mars equipped with instruments capable of extracting oxygen over time.

The success of COD's ambitious initiative would stimulate further research and boost astronauts’ chances of survival during the planned Mars missions in the 2030s. The supply of oxygen is also crucial for future colonists on the red planet.

Earlier this year, NASA offered good news for the academic community and engineers by reporting the successful production of a record amount of oxygen on Mars with an instrument called MOXIE.

More to read:
Innovative instrument aboard NASA rover hits new record for producing oxygen on Mars


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