Method for Processing Lunar Regolith Using Microwaves

A paper describes a method of using microwave heating experiments on lunar simulants to determine the mechanism that causes lunar regolith to be such an excellent microwave absorber. The experiments initially compared the effects of sharp particle edges to round particle edges on the heating curves. For most compositions, sharp particle edged samples were more effective in being heated by microwaves than round particle edged materials. However, the experiments also showed an unexpected effect for both types of particles. Upon heating the sample surface above 400 °C, the sample experienced some sort of internal structure change that caused it to heat much more efficiently. This enhancement may be associated with the unique microwave volumetric heating that can produce a large temperature gradient within the sample leading to melting of some components at the center of the sample. This new effect that may also be happening in lunar regolith samples is probably the cause of the previously observed enhanced heating of a sample of lunar regolith. Properly designed microwave applicators could heat and solidify the lunar regolith to form roads and building blocks for structures needed on the Moon.

This work was done by Martin B. Barmatz and David E. Steinfeld of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48895

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