There has been a continuous human presence on the International Space Station for over 20 years. Technologies are being developed to keep astronauts safe and healthy during stays that typically last between six months and a year, but future crewed missions, such as planned missions to Mars, will require an entirely new approach to manned spaceflight to be successful .
Recently, a group of researchers has proposed a new way to produce oxygen in space using magnets, as astronauts will need more advanced technologies in the future.
Existing oxygen systems on the International Space Station operate through the Oxygen Generating Arrangement, or OGA. Taking water from the water recovery system, OGA separates it into trapped oxygen and often hydrogen released into space. However, this system is heavy, making it difficult to launch, and while reliable for use on a long-range Mars mission , it comes with many challenges in terms of weight.
Oxygen Can Be Used More Efficiently Thanks to Magnets
New work from an international group of researchers suggests that a technique called magnetic phase separation may be more efficient for making oxygen in space. The problem with oxygen production is how to separate gases from liquids. In the microgravity field these gases do not rise to the top and must be rotated in a large, heavy centrifuge. The researchers propose using a magnet instead of a centrifuge by immersing a neodymium magnet in the liquid that attracts the bubbles .
The team tested their concept at the facility, a 146-metre- high structure housing a steel pipe from which all air can be sucked in. They placed a capsule inside the tube, set it in free fall, dropped from a height of 120 meters, achieved 4.74 seconds of weightlessness, during which they were able to conduct experiments.
Hanspeter Schaub of the University of Colorado Boulder, one of the researchers, used the following statements about the experiment:
“Being able to use this amazing drop tower in Germany after years of analytical and computational research has provided tangible proof that this concept will work in a zero-g space environment.”