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.
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.