Date of Award

Summer 1994

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering


Mechanical Engineering

Committee Director

Robert L. Ash

Committee Member

R. A. Outlaw

Committee Member

Surendra N. Tiwari

Committee Member

A. S. Roberts

Committee Member

S. K. Chaturvedi


A glow-discharge in an ambient Mars atmosphere (total pressure of 5 torr, composed of 95% carbon dioxide) results in the dissociation of carbon dioxide molecules into carbon monoxide and oxygen. If the glow-discharge zone is maintained adjacent and close to a silver membrane, operated at temperatures above 400°C, atomic and molecular oxygen, produced by the glow-discharge, can be separated from the other species by atomic diffusion through the membrane to an ultrahigh vacuum region where the desorbed O2 is then collected. Experiments have been conducted to study the behavior of the glow discharge in both molecular oxygen and carbon dioxide environments, and to study the interaction of atomic and molecular oxygen with silver. It was found that, with this geometry, more than 75% of the CO2 was dissociated into CO and O with only 5 mA discharge current and that the permeation flux increased linearly with discharge current. Only 0.65% of the generated atomic oxygen was adsorbed at the membrane because it quickly recombined to form O2as it migrated toward the membrane. The atomic oxygen arriving at the membrane, bypassed the thermal dissociative adsorption and therefore had a much higher sticking coefficient. This higher sticking coefficient resulted in a greatly increased surface concentration of oxygen which greatly increased the oxygen flux through the membrane.

The sticking coefficient of the atomic oxygen on silver was estimated by using a Langmuir type model and was found to be close to 1 at room temperature. Since most of the gas phase atomic oxygen quickly recombined to form O2 as it migrated toward the silver membrane, both a small amount of atomic oxygen and a relative large amount of molecular oxygen components will adsorb on the hot Ag membrane. But because of the much higher sticking coefficient for atomic oxygen on silver, the atomic component dominated the adsorption.

It was also found that the oxygen flux through the Ag membranes is diffusion controlled and therefore proportional to the reciprocal of the membrane thickness. Supported pin hole free Ag membranes with thicknesses of 12 μm have been developed in this work. Furthermore, a pin hole free Ag membrane that was grown by a combination of At ion bombardment assisted physical vapor deposition and intermediate burnishing with a thickness less than 1μm is being developed which will substantially improve the oxygen flux level. Thickness of 1 pm will permit flux levels of at least 1016 molecules/cm2s. With this flux level, less than 1.5 m2 membrane surface area would be needed to support an astronaut on a continual basis on the Mars surface. The results of this work show that this approach of producing oxygen from the CO2 Martian atmosphere can eliminate mechanical filtration, compression and high temperature heating of the Mars atmosphere proposed previously by electrochemical methods


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