Estonian startup UP Catalyst said it has received 50,000 euros of seed money from the incubation programme of the European Space Agency (ESA BIC) for business and product development to develop oxygen production on Mars.  

NASA has been preparing for human exploration of Mars for decades and plans to reach in 2030s, but the challenge the humans face on the new planet is the lack of oxygen. Mars has a thin atmosphere with a surface pressure less than a hundredth of the Earth’s. Furthermore, it is 96% carbon dioxide with only about 0.1% oxygen. For comparison, Earth’s atmosphere is 21% oxygen.

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment or better known as MOXIE has already shown some promising attempts to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for propellant and for breathing. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.

UP Catalyst said its carbon capture method works in the same way, but it is reprocessing the carbon monoxide into valuable carbon nanomaterials, which could be used in various fields of the space industry, e.g. in battery and ultracapacitor technologies, conductive and strengthening coatings, polymer formulations, water filters etc.

“We still have a lot of work to do as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars.”

UP Catalyst CEO, Dr Gary Urb

“UP Catalyst has a very strong scientific and technical background which translates into the high potential to support human missions on Mars, “ said ESA BIC project manager Sven Lilla. “ESA BIC funding is just a small indication of the ESA support for UP Catalyst to connect them with the right mentors and field-specific experts to start scaling up their production method.”

ESA BIC Estonia is part of the Europe-wide ESA BIC network, offering access to ESA expertise, knowledge and data, laboratory and testing facilities of the participating universities and hands-on business development support from the Incubation Centre teams.  

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