Magnets Could Solve The Oxygen Problem For Astronauts On Long Voyages

Researchers tested different types of liquids to see how an artificial magnet can be used to attract bubbles on the surface of an electrode for easy extraction. The go-to method for producing oxygen in space is electrolysis, which involves passing electricity through water to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. But separating the oxygen from the electrolytic cell requires an artificial centrifugal chamber to spin and force the gas out. According to the study, a simple neodymium magnet could be used to extract the gas in microgravity.

“These effects have tremendous consequences for the further development of phase separation systems, such as for long-term space missions,” noted Dr Katharina Brinkert, a member of the research team from the University of Warwick. Lead author of the research paper, Alvaro Romero-Calvo from the University of Colorado Boulder, said that magnets can be used to create completely passive systems for extracting oxygen in space without requiring added power and heavy machinery.

The findings of the aforementioned research have been published in NPJ Microgravity, a Nature-affiliated journal. Talking about alternative methods of oxygen production away from Earth, the toaster-sized MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) instrument aboard the Perseverance converted carbon dioxide into oxygen on Mars’ surface in April of 2021. While the machine is designed to produce only 10 grams of oxygen per hour, it serves as an important stepping stone for future missions.