Despite the fact that in space there is oxygen, the main part does not exist in the form that we used to breathe, molecular oxygen, or O2. The specialists of the California Institute of technology (Caltech) say they have created a reactor that allows recycling carbon dioxide to molecular oxygen, which in the future can not only help fight climate change on Earth, but also to establish production of oxygen in space. It is reported by an article published by the journal Nature Communications.
How to produce oxygen in space?
Oxygen deficiency is one of the main obstacles in the development of outer space. The earth is the only place where a volume of gas sufficient for the survival of mankind, but the need to carry large stocks of this important element of life in distant space flights will be very expensive and daunting task. For example, on the International space station oxygen supply replenished by the electrolysis of water (decomposition into hydrogen and oxygen). This ISS engaged in the system “Electron”, the cost of 1 kg of water per person per day. The oxygen also from time to time replenished during cargo missions to the space station. It is believed that when the terraforming of Mars, electrolysis will be one of the ways of production of oxygen for the Martian colonists, however, such technologies humanity has yet to come, so think about this before.
Therefore, scientists from Caltech, decided to find in its study a different method of oxygen production. In the end, they came to the creation of a reactor that, if we talk in simple words, takes and removes from the formula “CO2” (carbon dioxide) C (carbon), leaving only oxygen. The researchers found that if you accelerate and strike the molecules of carbon dioxide on inert surfaces such as gold foil, they can be split into molecular oxygen and atomic carbon.
The scientists say that their reactor works on the principle of a particle accelerator. First, the CO2 molecules in it are ionized and then accelerated by an electromagnetic field, and then face the gold surface. In the current form, the plant has a very low efficiency: for every 100 molecules of CO2 it is able to produce about one or two molecules of molecular oxygen. However, researchers draw attention to the fact that their reactor proved that the concept of oxygen production are indeed possible and may be scalable.
The researchers explain that this reaction oxygen production in space can occur in a natural way. Development of the concept began with attempts to explain the unexpected discovery of molecular oxygen in the comets. After the spacecraft “Rosetta” found gas escaping from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov — Gerasimenko, scientists initially assumed that the oxygen was in her frozen state billions of years, actually since the formation of the Solar system, that is, for about 4.6 billion years. But this hypothesis is still highly controversial, because such a “frozen” molecular oxygen was to have a very high chemical potential, and to interact with other components of the substance of the comet, according to some scientists.
However, in 2017 the team Caltech suggested another explanation. Professor California Institute of technology and an expert on molecular engineering Constantinos Liapis drew attention to the chemical reactions occurring on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov — Gerasimenko, as they seemed very similar to those reactions which he studied in the laboratory for over 20 years. He suggested that the well-studied mechanism, in that the atomic oxygen of the substance of the comet is converted into molecular oxygen under the action of bombarding the surface of the water molecule also contains one oxygen atom, is well applicable in the field of astrophysics to explain the data obtained by scientists of the mission “Rosetta”. It inspired scientists in the development of the reactor.
Why produce oxygen in space?
In the future, the reactor can be used to produce oxygen for the astronauts who will fly to the moon, Mars and beyond. On Earth a similar setup given the scale can also be very useful, because it can reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and to convert them into oxygen, thereby helping in the fight against global climate change. However, the researchers note that the practical phase of their installation is not ready yet.
“Final whether this device? No. Can this device solve the issue? No. However, this device proves one previously proposed a concept that seemed impossible,” commented Constantinos Liapis, head of the research project.
To discuss the news in our Telegram chat.