A device for the extraction and collection of volatiles from soil or planetary regolith. The device utilizes core drilled holes to gain access to underlying volatiles below the surface. Microwave energy beamed into the holes penetrates through the soil or regolith to heat it, and thereby produces vapor by sublimation. The device confines and transports volatiles to a cold trap for collection.
Nearly a decade ago the DOD Clementine lunar orbital mission obtained data indicating that the permanently shaded regions at the lunar poles may have permanently frozen water in the lunar soil. Currently NASA’s Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, RLEP-2, is planned to land at the lunar pole to determine if water is present. The detection and extraction of water from the permanently frozen permafrost is an important goal for NASA. Extraction of water from lunar permafrost has a high priority in the In-Situ Resource Utilization, ISRU, community for human life support and as a fuel. The use of microwave processing would permit the extraction of water without the need to dig, drill, or excavate the lunar surface. Microwave heating of regolith is potentially faster and more efficient than any other heating methods due to the very low thermal conductivity of the lunar regolith. Also, microwaves can penetrate into the soil permitting water removal from deep below the lunar surface. A cryogenic vacuum test facility was developed for evaluating the use of microwave heating and water extraction from a lunar regolith permafrost simulant. Water is obtained in a cryogenic cold trap even with soil conditions below 0 C. The results of microwave extraction of water experiments will be presented.