Oxygen on Mars? A Chinese robot could independently search for the optimal production method on the red planet. Artificial intelligence should help with this.
Lots of carbon dioxide, little water, solar energy and a lot of rock: conditions on Mars are not optimal. From a human perspective, 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. He presented a robot in the scientific journal “Nature Synthesis”. Thanks to artificial intelligence, in the future he could work in a small laboratory on Mars: he would have to find the perfect method to produce oxygen completely independently. Due to the large distance from Mars, the robot cannot be controlled in real time, but thanks to artificial intelligence the robot can not only work completely independently, but also get better and better – this is the plan of the research team .
The 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 the electrical energy of solar systems and with the perfect catalyst that makes the necessary chemical reaction possible.
This is where the AI robot comes into play. It should produce the best catalyst from Martian rock so that oxygen can also be produced from water. This is a so-called electrocatalyst, which is supposed to use solar energy to trigger the production of oxygen.
In its search for the best catalyst, the robot repeatedly mixes rock samples differently 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 artificial intelligence it is getting better and better.
First successful tests with Martian rocks
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. In theory, this creates over 3.7 million possibilities for producing a catalyst.
To test them all, a robot without artificial intelligence would need over 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 a few weeks.
So far the Chinese research team has only experimented with robots in the laboratory. The robot and especially the small chemical laboratory have yet 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 make sure in the laboratory that on Mars much less solar energy is available for the chemical reaction than on Earth.
NASA already produces oxygen from carbon dioxide
The Chinese research team calls the experiment a first proof of concept and above all wants to show new possibilities for oxygen production. NASA currently has other plans. The US space agency is trying to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide using a pre-programmed robot.
95% of carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere. Water, however, must be obtained from the Martian soil through a laborious process. NASA succeeded in producing 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.