Oxygen on Mars? A Chinese robot could search for the ideal manufacturing method on the red planet completely autonomously. Artificial intelligence should help with this.
Lots of carbon dioxide, some water, solar energy and lots of rocks – conditions on Mars are not ideal. From a human point of view, the main thing missing is oxygen. So how can oxygen be produced as efficiently as possible on the Red Planet?
With artificial intelligence, says a Chinese research group. She presented a robot in the scientific magazine “Nature Synthesis”. Thanks to artificial intelligence, he could work in a small laboratory on Mars in the future: he should 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 function completely independently, but also get better and better – this is the research team’s plan.
Robot searches for the perfect catalyst
The robot mainly needs water to produce oxygen. There is now 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 enables the necessary chemical reaction.
This is where the robot with artificial intelligence comes in. It should produce the best catalyst from Martian rock so that oxygen could also be produced from water. This is a so-called electrocatalyst, which supposedly uses solar energy to trigger the production of oxygen.
In the search for the best catalyst, the robot repeatedly mixes rock samples in different ways and uses them to develop new catalysts, which are then tested directly. How much oxygen is being produced now? How can even more oxygen be produced? 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 were successful
The robot has now completed its first tests on Earth – including with real Martian rock that fell to Earth millions of years ago in the form of meteorites. The robot was given five different types of rock to test. Theoretically, 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 within weeks.
The Chinese research team has so far only experimented with robots in the laboratory. The robot and especially the small chemistry laboratory still need to be developed for work on Mars. The experiments on Earth took place at minus 37 degrees to simulate the cold temperatures on Mars. Furthermore, the robot had to ensure in the laboratory that there is much less solar energy available for the chemical reaction on Mars than on Earth.
NASA already produces oxygen from carbon dioxide
The Chinese research team calls the experiment a first proof of concept and mainly aims to show new possibilities for producing oxygen. NASA currently 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 in the atmosphere. Water, on the other hand, has to be obtained from Martian soil in a laborious process. NASA managed to produce oxygen with the Perseverance rover 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.