The Technology Transfer and Partnerships Office
Martian Gases Capture and Processing
ROxygen I Oxygen Production Plant with an Inclined Auger RFS being Field Tested on Mauna Kea Volcano in Hawaii (2010)
Photo of dry ice collected at 10 mbar CO2 pressure and 150 K on a copper cryocooler cold tip (Photo: NASA KSC)

Goal: Capture and Separate gases in the Martian atmosphere before their use.

Martian atmospheric gases are a very important resource for surface missions on the red planet. However, their utilization for the production of hydrocarbons, oxygen, and water in ISRU systems requires that they be separated from their original mixture. Trace gases must be extracted to provide pure CO2 to processing reactors. In addition, other Martian gases, such as nitrogen and argon, occur in concentrations high enough to be useful as buffer gas and should be captured as well. To achieve these goals, highly efficient gas separation processes will be required. These gas separation techniques are also required across various areas within the ISRU project to support various consumable production processes. We first evaluate the current state-of-the-art of gas separation technologies, with the objective to demonstrate and develop innovative light-weight, low-power methods for gas separation. Gas separation requirements include, but are not limited to the selective separation of: (1) methane and water from un-reacted carbon oxides (CO2-CO) and hydrogen typical of a Sabatier-type process, (2) carbon oxides and water from un-reacted hydrogen from a Reverse Water-Gas Shift process, (3) carbon oxides from oxygen from a trash/waste processing reaction, and (4) helium from hydrogen or oxygen from a propellant scavenging process. Potential technologies for the separations include freezers, selective membranes, selective solvents, polymeric sorbents, zeolites, and new technologies.

Development of a CO2 Freezer

A recent technology evaluation concluded that cryofreezing is the most promising current technology for CO2 capture. We have been designing a CO2 freezer to provide feed to a Sabatier reactor as part of the MARCO POLO (Mars Atmosphere and Regolith COllector/PrOcessor for Lander Operations) project being led by NASA Johnson Space Center. The purpose of the MARCO POLO project is to demonstrate the conversion of Martian CO2 and water from regolith into methane/oxygen bipropellant on the scale needed for a Mars Sample Return mission.


Mars In Situ Resource Utilization Technology Evaluation, A. Muscatello, E. Santiago-Maldonado, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL; AIAA-2012-360, 50th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting, Nashville, Tennessee, Jan. 9-12, 2012.

Mars Atmospheric Capture and Gas Separation, A. Muscatello, E. Santiago-Maldonado, T. Gibson, R. Devor, J. Captain. NASA Kennedy Space Center, FL; AIAA-2011-7349, AIAA SPACE 2011 Conference and Exposition, Long Beach, California, Sep. 27-29, 2011.