Robot Uses Mars Meteorites to Make OxygenRobot Uses Mars Meteorites to Make Oxygen
The experiment, run by researchers from China, improves the viability of living on the red planet
November 15, 2023
A robot has made oxygen out of water from Mars meteorite extracts, in an experiment that improves the possibility of sustaining life on the red planet.
The experiment, conducted by researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, used an AI-enabled robot to identify the correct elements in the rock samples to make the catalyst needed to produce oxygen from water.
The team estimated that, without the robot, this process would have taken 2,000 years of human labor.
Living off-planet has long been an aim for space agencies, though ensuring astronauts have access to crucial resources such as water, oxygen and fuel has been a consistent obstacle in proving the viability of living there long term.
Using materials from Mars to create these resources is something of a Holy Grail in terms of enabling this long-term exploration and habitation and the team’s research paves the way for this possibility.
In the research, the team said the AI-enabled robot addressed two main challenges seen with producing resources from Martian resources.
“First, the synthetic system must be unmanned and self-directing, as the vast astronomical distance hinders real-time remote guidance from humans,” the team wrote. “Second, it should be equipped with the scientific intelligence needed to efficiently identify the best formula of catalyst ingredients through AI algorithms.
“Robotic synthetic systems with AI appear to be the only viable technology for addressing these two challenges.”
The robot created, called an “AI chemist” by the team, used predictive models and an inbuilt knowledge of chemical synthesis to autonomously test different rock samples and design the best formula to catalyze the water-to-oxygen reaction.
Within six weeks, the robot analyzed 243 experimental data sets and almost 30,000 theoretical simulations to pick and synthesize a viable six-metal catalyst from 3,764,376 possible formulas.
“Our study provides a demonstration that an advanced AI chemist can, without human intervention, synthesize OER catalysts on Mars from local ores,” the team concluded. “This system has demonstrated its ability to perform all required experimental steps, including raw material analysis, pretreatment, synthesis, characterization and performance testing with high precision and also shown its intelligent analysis power in identifying the best formula for a Martian OER catalyst from millions of possible combinations.”
The team is set to continue developing the technology, with the aim of one day sending these AI chemist robots off-planet to begin the process of setting up resources.
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