Plasma technology could hold the key to creating a sustainable oxygen supply on Mars

A team from Instituto de Plasmas e Fusão Nuclear (IST/UL, Lisbon, Portugal) – V Guerra, T Silva, P Ogloblina, M Grofulović, L Terraz, M Lino da Silva, CD Pintassilgo and LL Alves – and from Laboratoire de Physique des Plasmas (École Polytechnique, Paris, France) – Olivier Guaitella – published a letter in the journal Plasma Sources Science and Technology where it is suggested that Mars, with its 96% carbon dioxide atmosphere, has nearly ideal conditions for creating oxygen from CO2 through plasma-induced decomposition.

The work shows that Mars has excellent conditions for In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) by plasma. As well as its CO2 atmosphere, the cold environment (on average about 210 K temperature) may induce a strong and slow vibrational excitation, leading to the split-up of the molecule into oxygen and carbon monoxide.

As the authors say, “mankind has been exploring space for decades, stimulating the imagination and expanding the horizons of knowledge. Mars is the next step of the journey into the Universe. (…) The ISRU (…) will minimize risks to the crew and mission, and (…) reduce costs by demanding fewer vehicles to complete the mission.”

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