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 5 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. Dielectric property measurements of lunar soil simulant have been measured. Microwave absorption and attenuation in lunar soil simulant has been correlated with measured dielectric properties. Future work will be discussed.
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.