Plasma Could Be the Key to Sustainable Oxygen on Mars

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One of the major challenges about sending anyone to Mars for a lengthy period of time is to keep a sustainable oxygen supply up there.  However, a recent study may have found the answer, and it’s to do with plasma technology.  The research suggests that as 96 percent of the Red Planet’s atmosphere is carbon dioxide, it shouldn’t be too difficult to produce oxygen from it through a process called decomposition.

The research was carried out by the universities of Lisbon and Porto, along with Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and demonstrates how much the temperature and pressure vary up on Mars.  This is significant as it means non-thermal plasma can be used to produce oxygen and may be just what we need to start colonizing on the Red Planet.  “Sending a manned mission to Mars is one of the next major steps in our exploration of space.  Creating a breathable environment, however, is a substantial challenge,” said lead author Dr. Vasco Guerra from the University of Lisbon.  “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 the perfect conditions for In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) by plasma.  The cold surrounding atmosphere added to its CO2 atmosphere creates a stronger vibrational effect than we experience down here on Earth.  Reactions are slower to given the low atmospheric temperature which allows the molecules extra time to separate.  “The low-temperature plasma decomposition method offers a twofold solution for a manned mission to Mars.  Not only would it provide a stable, reliable supply of oxygen, but a source of fuel as well, as carbon monoxide has been proposed as to be used as a propellant mixture in rocket vehicles,” said Dr. Guerra.  “This ISRU approach could help significantly simplify the logistics of a mission to Mars.”

Related Journal Article;  IOPScience

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