Of the many dangers future Mars explorers may face, one of the most vexing will be the toxic chemicals found in Martian soil. However, these chemicals not only interfere with “exploration” – they may also be the key to the production of useful oxygen on a planet where most of the atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is developing a device that can detect chemicals called reactive oxygen species. They come from sources such as perchlorates and salts found on the surface of Mars, which are known to cause thyroid problems and other illnesses in humans.
“An important aspect is that this method can be used for more than just detecting superoxide. The ESA-supported project will include a prototype large-scale reactor device to periodically extract oxygen from the soil, a process we call “oxygen farming”. We estimate that there will be enough oxygen in an area of 1.2 hectares to support the life of one astronaut, ”the ESA said.
However, at the moment there are difficulties in order to reliably test this technology. There are now Martian soil simulators designed for research based on what scientists know about the composition of the regolith, but for safety reasons, hazardous chemicals have been removed from these simulators, and they are crucial for testing. Therefore, the research team is now working on creating their own regolith simulator using samples of Martian and lunar meteorites.
“Our goal is to make the exploration detector smaller than a paperback book. It is likely that astronauts will find this useful throughout the duration of any mission to the Moon and Mars,” said Dr. Ioannis Markopoulos, CEO of 01 Mechatronics, which plans to prototype the detector.