We propose Phase 1 of Lunar WETS, a comprehensive research and development effort to characterize and mature a pair of lunar water harvesting technologies that include in-situ heating methods based on stationary or mobile domes used with subsurface microwave heating and a method in which icy regolith is placed into vessels for heating and extraction. We propose to map their performance to a wide range of possible concentrations and distributions of water resources so that as the uncertainties in these factors are reduced by exploration and prospecting, the best possible water harvesting technology can be quickly infused into NASA missions. In our Phase 1 work we will demonstrate 6 kW microwave heating of frozen icy regolith simulants using a dome on top of a simulated regolith substrate (following on our NIAC Phase II experiments) and in a custom built vessel which can be loaded with simulated regolith, both in cryogenic vacuum conditions to simulate the lunar environment, i.e., temperatures between 40 and 100 K and 10-9 torr vacuum.
The current state of lunar water extraction and collection technology includes a gamut of concepts in the TRL 1-3 range based on systems for which there has been conceptual formulation and, for some, initial proof-of-concept experiments. PI Sercel at TransAstra is the inventor of the patent pending Radiant Gas Dynamic (RGD) method of lunar ice mining that is currently under development in the accelerated 1 year Lunar Polar Mining Outpost (LPMO) NIAC Phase 2 grant activity which is synergistic but not overlapping this proposed work. Co-I van Susante has lead research efforts at MTU into excavation of planetary surfaces and ongoing work into vessel-based reactors and is also a Co-I on TransAstra’s related NIAC effort. The NIAC work has been completed to TRL 2 at the time of this proposal submittal and has produce hardware designed for use in the same facility at MTU as proposed for Lunar WETS.
The impact of this work on the Artemis program will be large because it will allow the program to plan for material, logistical, and operational support of water extraction techniques and will fundamentally shape the entire program. The work we propose is timely because it will lead the way to elevate the TRL of these technologies to level 4 in preparation for the next stage of development, leading to sustainable lunar missions starting in 2028 with water and establish a propellant supply at a fraction of the cost of Earth supplied propellant
Any commercial firm that wishes to exploit lunar resources or establish a commercial presence (tourism or resource extraction) will benefit from this evaluation of extraction techniques. TransAstra is currently working with Blue Origin, who has already agreed to purchase lunar water to create propellant made possible by using TransAstrs’s patented Sun Flower™ power systems.