Tag Archives: in situ resource utilization

Microwave Extraction of Lunar Water for Rocket Fuel

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.

Extraction of Water from Polar Lunar Permafrost with Microwaves – Dielectric Property Measurements

Remote sensing indicates the presence of hydrogen rich regions associated with the lunar poles. The logical hypothesis is that there is cryogenically trapped water ice located in craters at the lunar poles. Some of the craters have been in permanent darkness for a billion years. The presence of water at the poles as well as other scientific advantages of a polar base, have influenced NASA plans for the lunar outpost. The lunar outpost has water and oxygen requirements on the order of 1 ton per year scaling up to as much as 10 tons per year. Microwave heating of the frozen permafrost has unique advantages for water extraction. Proof of principle experiments have successfully demonstrated that microwaves will couple to the cryogenic soil in a vacuum and the sublimed water vapor can be successfully captured on a cold trap. The dielectric properties of lunar soil will determine the hardware requirements for extraction processes. Microwave frequency dielectric property measurements of lunar soil simulant have been measured.

Using Microwaves for Extracting Water from the Moon

This disk contains a video that accompanies the talk. 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. The video shows the partial results of the COMSOL modeling.

Using Microwaves for Extracting Water from the Moon

This disk contains 2 videos that accompanies the talk. 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. The 1st video shows the results of the COMSOL models. The second video shows brief views of the lunar surface.

g of Planetary Surfaces for the Extraction of Volatiles

In-Situ Resource Utilization will be necessary for sustained exploration of space. Volatiles are present in planetary soils, but water by far has the strongest potential for effective utilization. The presence of water at the lunar poles, Mars, and possibly on Phobos opens the possibility of producing LOX for propellant. Water is also a useful radiation shielding material and water (and oxygen) are expendables that are also required for habitation in space. Because of the strong function of water vapor pressure with temperature, heating soil effectively liberates water vapor by sublimation. Microwave energy will penetrate soil and heat from within much more efficiently than heating from the surface with radiant heat. This is especially true under vacuum conditions since the heat transfer rate is very low. The depth of microwave penetration is a strong function of the microwave frequency and to a lesser extent on soil dielectric properties. Methods for measuring the complex electric permittivity and magnetic permeability are being developed and have been measured for some lunar soil simulants at 0.5, 2.45, and 10 GHz from room temperature down to liquid nitrogen temperature. A new method for delivery of microwaves deep into a planetary surface is being prototyped with laboratory experiments and modeled with COMSOL MultiPhysics. We have plans to set up a planetary testbed in a large vacuum chamber in the coming year. Recent results will be presented.

Microwave Extraction of Water from Lunar Regolith Simulant

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.