Research conducted by material scientists may lead to the ability to extract water from the Moon and possibly Mars by shooting microwave beams into their surface, according to Bill Kaukler, Associate Research Professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The Phoenix Mars lander scratched just two inches below the surface of Mars to expose water ice. In the Moon's polar regions, satellites have found huge amounts of hydrogen - evidence that water exists. The Moon's surface is covered with over two meters deep of regolith - soil that has about 5% iron, similar to Earth's volcanic rock. "Microwaves are not strongly absorbed by the regolith so it can penetrate several feet into the soil and heat it," says Kaukler.
The scientists have developed a prototype and used simulated lunar regolith to test their ideas. Their prototype has the power of one kilowatt, about the same as a typical home microwave oven. They can remove 99% of water-ice through sublimation, and capture 95% of the liberated water. Kaukler envisions a 10-kilowatt, robotic, roving device powered by a nuclear generator to roam the Moon's surface. One important factor of this project is not carrying water on a journey, thus saving space and weight on long-distance trips.