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The Background:

I am going to be asking a series of questions that will be relevant to forming some sort of a picture of human space commerce.

Let's say that Earth-based human civilizations have discovered a series of ancient jump-gates that allow them to travel within a large and varied interstellar network.

There are not many clues, apart from the jumpgates, as to who left this system behind. For the moment, I am assuming that there is no bias to the kind of systems included in the network: i.e. its not like systems with earth like planets make up the majority of the planets in the network. So, "system types" have roughly the same probability of occurrence as if one were just taking a cross-section of space and scanning it.

Put another way, the gates simply connect a large number of close-by stars, rather than a large number of only useful stars.

While genetically-engineered humans exist in this "universe", no non-human sentient aliens have yet been encountered.

Also, jumpgates do not limit the size of the ship that can be transported through them.

The Question:

Oxygen is needed not only for breathing, but also perhaps for making water, with hydrogen. While recycling can do a lot, there is going to be inevitable loss. How easy would it be to gather oxygen in space?

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    $\begingroup$ You can always get oxygen by splitting water and throwing away the hydrogen - so if your water question is answered it answers this one too. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 20 '15 at 9:28
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NASA considers oxygen to be very common around massive stars, and in 2011 the Herschel Telescope confirmed that it was floating around as tiny dust. Oxygen is the third most common element in the known universe, so I suspect you should be able to collect it easily wherever you go.

Another question could concern the tech that is used to gather and process O2.

Herschel Telescope Confirms Oxygen in Space

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    $\begingroup$ Wait, it just ocurred to me that we have detected molecules in another star system. (!) We live in a very exciting time. $\endgroup$ – Mikey Feb 20 '15 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ We've been doing that since the invention of the spectroscope in 1814 by Fraunhofer. Cool atoms emit light at certain frequencies, hot atoms emit light at those same frequencies. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Feb 20 '15 at 22:52
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From Wikipedia, the source of all inaccurate quotes...

Oxygen is the third most abundant chemical element in the universe, after hydrogen and helium. About 0.9% of the Sun's mass is oxygen. Oxygen constitutes 49.2% of the Earth's crust by mass

There are several cycles producing oxygen in the stars, so oxygen is common in both the solar wind and on planets. Oxygen is chemically reactive so it produces relatively stable oxides with most other elements including the one element you won't run out of in space, hydrogen. Those oxides are relatively light so they have a good chance of remaining on planetary surfaces and atmospheres.

So both oxygen and water should be easy to find. The issue is in extracting it. I think you can safely assume that an interstellar civilization, even one using legacy technology, has solved the practical issues involved. Actually the limited scope of the transport network works in your favour here. It gives the people natural locations where to build permanent extraction infrastructure. Independently moving ships extracting their own water/oxygen as they go would be a much more difficult problem.

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Given a power-source to separate chemical bonds, Oxygen is in plentiful supply. Examples include:

  • Oxygen is the most abundant element in the atmosphere of Mars. Its atmosphere is mainly CO2, but CO2 is after all one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms.

  • Jupiter's moon Europa is full of oxygen. Europa is known for its water ice and water's chemical composition is H2O, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

  • Comets have plenty of water and hence oxygen.

  • Asteroids have oxygen too Not only are asteroids a great source for metals, the rocks also contain oxygen. In particular there are asteroids with a large amount of silicates, such as olivine which has the chemical formula (Mg+2, Fe+2)2SiO4.

Having secured your supply of hydrogen and oxygen, you need carbon to complete the list of three most important elements for life. You can find carbon in the atmosphere of mars and in asteroids, but it's perhaps more realistic that the carbon will come from methane (CH4) as you can extract energy by burning Methane. You can find this gas in several places, such as the top of Neptune's atmosphere, but landing on Saturn's moon Titan to collect liquid methane and ethane would perhaps be simpler

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Assuming you have enough power available oxygen is pretty easy to come by. Rock contains huge amounts of it. Thus any rocky body, be it planet, moon or asteroid will have all that you could want.

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