Space travel: how to produce oxygen on Mars with AI

As of: November 14, 2023 12:41 pm

Oxygen on Mars? A Chinese robot could search for the optimal manufacturing method on the red planet completely autonomously. Artificial intelligence should help with this.

A lot of carbon dioxide, a little water, solar energy and a lot of rock: conditions on Mars are not optimal. From a human perspective, what is most lacking is oxygen. So how can oxygen be produced as efficiently as possible on the red planet?

With artificial intelligence, claims a Chinese research group. He presented a robot in the scientific journal “Nature Synthesis”. Thanks to artificial intelligence, in the future you could work in a small laboratory on Mars: you would have to find the perfect method to produce oxygen completely independently. Due to the great distance to Mars, the robot cannot be controlled in real time, but thanks to artificial intelligence, the robot could not only work completely independently, but also get better and better: this is the plan of the team investigation.

Robot searches for the perfect catalyst

The robot mainly needs water to produce oxygen. There is growing evidence that there are large amounts of water beneath the surface of Mars. Oxygen can be obtained from water, with electrical energy from solar systems and with the perfect catalyst that makes the necessary chemical reaction possible.

This is where the artificially intelligent robot comes into play. It is supposed to produce the best catalyst from Martian rock so that oxygen can also be produced from water. This is the so-called electrocatalyst, which supposedly uses solar energy to activate the production of oxygen.

In its search for the best catalyst, the robot repeatedly mixes differently shaped rock samples and uses them to develop new catalysts, which are then tested directly. How much oxygen is being produced right now? How can we produce even more oxygen? Using artificial intelligence, the robot analyzes the results and designs new predictions and plans for new catalysts. Thanks to AI it’s getting better and better.

First tests with Martian rocks successful

The robot has now completed its first tests on Earth, including using real Martian rock that fell to Earth millions of years ago in the form of meteorites. The robot was given five different types of rocks to test. In theory, this creates more than 3.7 million possibilities for producing a catalyst.

To test them all, a robot without artificial intelligence would need more than 2,000 years. Thanks to artificial intelligence, the robot does not have to go through all the options and finds the perfect catalyst for oxygen production in a few weeks.

So far, the Chinese research team has only experimented with robots in the laboratory. The robot and in particular the small chemistry laboratory still need to be developed for work on Mars. The experiments on Earth were conducted at -37 degrees to simulate the cold temperatures of Mars. In addition, the robot had to make sure in the laboratory that on Mars there is much less solar energy available for the chemical reaction than on Earth.

NASA already produces oxygen from carbon dioxide

The Chinese research team describes the experiment as a first proof of concept and mainly wants to show new possibilities for oxygen production. Currently NASA has other plans. The US space agency is trying to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide using a pre-programmed robot.

95 percent of carbon dioxide is found in the atmosphere. Water, on the other hand, must be obtained from the Martian soil through a laborious process. NASA managed to produce oxygen with the Mars rover Perseverance as early as June 2023. The Moxie instrument produced 12 grams of oxygen in one hour during the June test. Now NASA is working on a larger instrument.

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