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.
In-Situ Resource Utilization will be necessary for sustained exploration of space. Volatiles are present in planetary soils, but water by far has the most 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 valuable to replenish expendables (water and oxygen) 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 complex electric permittivity and magnetic permeability measurement are being developed and used for measurements of lunar soil simulants. A new method for delivery of microwaves deep into a planetary surface is being prototyped with laboratory experiments and modeled with COMSOL MultiPhysics. We are planning to set up a planetary testbed in a large vacuum chamber in the coming year. Recent results are discussed.