Technology

American scientists may have solved the problem of oxygen production in space

Despite the fact that there is oxygen in space,its main part does not exist in the form that we used to breathe - molecular oxygen, or O2. Experts from Caltech (Caltech) declare that they have created a reactor that allows to process carbon dioxide into molecular oxygen, which in the future can not only help combat climate change on Earth, but also establish oxygen production in space. This is reported in an article published by the journal Nature Communications.

How to produce oxygen in space?

Oxygen deficiency is one of the most importantobstacles in the development of deep space. The Earth is the only place where the volumes of this gas are sufficient for the survival of mankind, but the need to take large reserves of this vital element to long-distance space flights will be a very expensive and overwhelming task. For example, on the same International Space Station, the oxygen supply is replenished by electrolysis of water (decomposition of it into hydrogen and oxygen). This is done on the ISS by the Electron system, which consumes 1 kg of water per person per day. Oxygen stores are also replenished from time to time during cargo missions to the orbital station. There is an opinion that when the terraforming of Mars begins, electrolysis will become one of the methods of producing oxygen for Martian colonists, but humankind does not have such technologies yet, so it’s too early to think about it.

Therefore, scientists from Caltech decided to find withinhis research is a different method of producing oxygen. As a result, they came up with the creation of a reactor, which, to put it simply, takes and removes C (carbon) from the formula CO2 (carbon dioxide), leaving only oxygen. The researchers found that if you accelerate and strike carbon dioxide molecules on inert surfaces such as gold foil, they can be split into molecular oxygen and atomic carbon.

Scientists say their reactor is operating atparticle accelerator principle. First, the CO2 molecules in it are ionized, and then accelerated by the electromagnetic field, and then they collide with the golden surface. In the current form, the installation has a very low efficiency: for every 100 molecules of CO2, it is capable of producing on the order of one or two molecules of molecular oxygen. However, the researchers point out that their reactor has proven that this concept of oxygen production is indeed possible and can become scalable in the future.

Researchers explain that a similar reactionOxygen production in space can occur naturally. The development of the concept began with an attempt to explain the unexpected discovery of molecular oxygen on comets. After the Rosetta spacecraft discovered a gas escaping from the surface of comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists initially assumed that this oxygen was in its frozen state for billions of years, in fact since the formation of the Solar System, that is, for about 4 , 6 billion years old. But this hypothesis still remains highly controversial, since such “frozen” molecular oxygen should have a very high chemical potential and enter into interactions with other components of the cometary substance, according to a number of scientists.

However, in 2017, the Kolteha team proposedanother explanation. Professor at the California Institute of Technology and molecular engineering specialist Konstantinos Gyapis drew attention to the chemical reactions occurring on the surface of comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, because they seemed to him very similar to those reactions that he had studied in the laboratory for over 20 years. The scientist suggested that the well-studied mechanism, consisting in the fact that the atomic oxygen of a comet's substance turns into molecular oxygen under the influence of water molecules bombarding the surface, also containing one oxygen atom, is well applicable in astrophysics to explain the data obtained by the scientists of the Rosette mission . This inspired scientists to develop a reactor.

Why produce oxygen in space?

In the future, the reactor may be used forproducing oxygen for astronauts who will fly to the moon, mars and beyond. On Earth, a similar installation, taking into account the scale, can also be very useful, because it can reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and convert them into oxygen, thereby helping in the fight against global climate change. However, scientists note that for the practical phase of their installation is not yet ready.

“Is this the final device? Not. Can this device solve the issue with Mars? Not. However, this device is proven by a previously proposed concept that seemed impossible, ”commented Konstantinos Giapis, head of a research project.

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