Water extraction from icy lunar simulants using low power microwave heating

Cole, James; Lim, Sungwoo; Sargeant, Hannah; Sheridan, Simon; Anand, Mahesh and Morse, Andrew (2023). Water extraction from icy lunar simulants using low power microwave heating. Acta Astronautica, 209 pp. 95–103.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2023.04.035


Identifying the best technique for extracting water ice deposits in permanently shadowed regions at the lunar poles will be crucial in determining how successful a long-term or permanent settlement at these locations will be for future scientific and technology missions. This study uses a low-power microwave heating method to extract water from icy lunar simulants. Samples of lunar highland and mare simulants at different water contents (3–15 wt %) were heated using 250 W, 2.45 GHz microwaves. A maximum of 67 ± 5% [2SD] of the water was extracted during heating runs of 25 min. Water was extracted more efficiently from the highland simulant than from the mare simulant. A significant reason for the different efficiency of water extraction in icy lunar simulants was the differing porosity of the samples made from different simulants. Pore space filled with ice leads to a reduced contact area between grains and an increased area of free ice, which causes poor heating performance. The results indicated that differences in chemical composition between the simulants had a negligible effect on water extraction, as the contact area between grains seems to dominate water extraction. This study found that low-power microwave heating is an effective technique for extracting water from cryogenic Icy simulants. It was also found that using a simple input energy principle (Input Energy = Absorbed Power x Heating Time) to estimate the additional heating time was sufficient to overcome inefficient heating due to differing absorbed powers. For undersaturated samples, microwave heating was an efficient heating mechanism, but is less efficient for saturated samples where alternative heating methods may be more efficient at melting free ice before employing microwave heating.

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