Nearly 50% of the lunar surface is oxygen, present as oxides in silicate rocks and soil. Methods for reduction of these oxides could liberate the oxygen. Remote sensing has provided evidence of significant quantities of hydrogen possibly indicating hundreds of millions of metric tons, MT, of water at the lunar poles. If the presence of lunar water is verified, water is likely to be the first in situ resource exploited for human exploration and for LOX-H2 rocket fuel. In-Situ lunar resources offer unique advantages for space operations. Each unit of product produced on the lunar surface represents 6 units that need not to be launched into LEO. Previous studies have indicated the economic advantage of LOX for space tugs from LEO to GEO. Use of lunar derived LOX in a reusable lunar lander would greatly reduce the LEO mass required for a given payload to the moon. And Lunar LOX transported to L2 has unique advantages for a Mars mission. Several methods exist for extraction of oxygen from the soil. But, extraction of lunar water has several significant advantages. Microwave heating of lunar permafrost has additional important advantages for water extraction. Microwaves penetrate and heat from within not just at the surface and excavation is not required. Proof of concept experiments using a moon in a bottle concept have demonstrated that microwave processing of cryogenic lunar permafrost simulant in a vacuum rapidly and efficiently extracts water by sublimation. A prototype lunar water extraction rover was built and tested for heating of simulant. Microwave power was very efficiently delivered into a simulated lunar soil. Microwave dielectric properties (complex electric permittivity and magnetic permeability) of lunar regolith simulant, JSC-1A, were measured down to cryogenic temperatures and above room temperature. The microwave penetration has been correlated with the measured dielectric properties. Since the microwave penetration depth is a function of temperature and frequency, an extraction system can be designed for water removal from different depths.
Twenty years ago, the Lunar Prospector remote sensing satellite provided evidence of relatively large hydrogen concentrations at the lunar poles and in particular concentrated in permanently shadowed craters. The scientific hypothesis is that the hydrogen is in the form of cryo-trapped water just under the surface of the soil. If true this would mean that an average of about 2% water ice is mixed with the lunar soil existing in the form of ice at cryogenic temperatures. For 5 years we have been investigating the use of microwaves for the processing of lunar soil. One of the early uses could be to use microwave energy to extract volatiles and in particular water from the lunar permafrost. Prototype experiments have shown that microwave energy at 2.45 GHz, as in consumer microwave ovens, will couple with and heat cryogenically cooled lunar soil permafrost simulant, resulting in the rapid sublimation of water vapor into the vacuum chamber. The water vapor has been collected on a cryogenic cold trap with high efficiency. The primary advantage of microwave processing is that the volatiles can be extracted in situ. Excavation would not be required. Microwave frequency dielectric property measurements are being made of different lunar soil simulants and plans are to measure Apollo lunar soil at different frequencies and over a range of temperatures. The materials properties are being used to evaluate the heating of lunar soil and develop COMSOL models that can be used to evaluate different microwave extraction scenarios. With COMSOL the heating from cryogenic temperatures can be calculated and COMSOL will permit temperature dependent materials properties to be used during the heating process. Calculations at different microwave frequencies will allow the evaluation of the type of hardware that would be needed to most efficiently extract the water and other volatiles.