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Oxygen From Water, all in Zero Gravity

The outer space fascinates us and films like “Gravity”, “Interstellar”, and “Martian” do little to quench our thirst. Private companies and space agencies alike are crafting plans to launch a colony of humans on Mars. The discovery of planets similar to Earth in the nearby planets is only adding fuel to such plans. However, the glitch in the scrutinized planning is that humans absolutely need oxygen for survival, which sadly enough, isn’t available in the outer space. Moreover, it’s quite difficult to transport tanks of oxygen to outer space. Also, unfortunately, Mars is just a tad bit far away for quick refill runs to Earth. Does that mean all the dreams to colonize Mars are all for naught? Thankfully, that is not the case.

A new study sheds light into the possibility of the production of oxygen (for life) and hydrogen (for fuel) from water with the aid of a semiconductor material and sunlight which is essentially starlight, all in zero gravity. This study has been published in “Nature Communications”. The oxygen and hydrogen produced in this manner from water can be used as fuel for a spacecraft. Moreover, it is far safer to launch a rocket with water than explosive rocket fuel and oxygen. Special technology can then be used for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen for the purpose of fuel and life, once space is reached.

Alternate methods are available for this purpose. One option is electrolysis using electrolytes and solar cells, as done on earth. Another option is to use “photocatalysts”.  Here light particles, i.e photons are absorbed by the semiconductor material in water which aids in the splitting into hydrogen and oxygen. “Bubble Management” is another method. However, its implementation in outer space is not a reality still. Engineers are working to solve all issues.

All in all, long-term space exploration is one step closer to being a reality.


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Siddharth Deb