August 16, 2022

Oxygen From Magnets to Aid Future Space Missions

Humans need oxygen to function, a requirement that makes space travel a complicated and critical task – especially when considering future missions to Mars – but an international team of scientists might have the answer to that: magnets.

Researchers from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Germany are looking to electrolysis to provide the much-needed gas for not only the International Space Station (ISS), but on shuttle missions to the Red Planet in the near future.

The process is an environmentally-friendly way to produce hydrogen, but Dr Katharina Brinkert of the University of Warwick in the UK thinks that the same process can create oxygen, too. One major obstacle is that gravity is vital in the separation of gases from liquids – the ISS uses centrifuges to create “artificial gravity”, but that requires huge amounts of energy and space.

However, tests at a special drop tower at the Center for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity in Bremen, Germany have provided promising results in that the concept: gas bubbles could be attracted to, or repelled away from, a simple neodymium magnet.
Brinkert believes that this method holds “tremendous consequences for the further development of phase separation systems, such as for long-term space missions.”

Magnetic fields also enhance the effectiveness of electrolysis, so that’s a breath of fresh air for new discoveries in the field.