Microwaves are useful for more than just reheating leftovers. They can also create landing pads on other worlds — at least according to research released by a consortium of researchers at the University of Central Florida, Arizona State University and Cislune, a private company. Their research shows how a combination of sorting the lunar soil and then blasting it with microwaves could create a landing pad for future rockets on the Moon – and save any surrounding buildings from being blasted by 10,000 kilometer per hour dust particles.
This system works largely because certain minerals on the moon’s surface are magnetic, and those same minerals are also very susceptible to being heated by microwaves. In particular, a type of glassy mineral called ilmenite, which makes up about 1 to 2 percent of the Moon’s surface, is highly magnetic.
Ilmenite forms when the moon is blasted by small meteors and forms material called agglutinates. For older lunar soils (ie, those that have not been recently blasted by a meteor), up to 60 percent of the soil consists of these agglutinates, while only about 20 percent of “younger” lunar soils are. So the concentrations are high enough in some places that contain significant amounts of older regolith.
Understanding regolith will be key to setting up any kind of lunar base, according to this UT interview.
So if future explorers wanted to make a landing pad, they could zap this older soil with strong microwaves to sinter it together and create a durable enough surface that would allow a rocket to land on it without sandblasting everything around. That blast of sand would be particularly vicious since there is no air to slow the dust particles down, as it would on Earth.
The solution seems simple enough – blast the soil with microwaves to sinter it together. However, systems can always be improved, and this microwave sintering process is no exception. The researchers found that by subjecting the regolith to a process known as beneficiation, they could increase the number of microwaves it absorbed and thus the efficiency of the heating process.
Favoring, in this case, involves sifting the soil and hitting it with a magnetic field, causing the more magnetic soil to move toward the magnet, while the non-magnetic soil would simply fall back to the ground. Dr. Phil Metzger, one of the lead authors of the study, compares the process to what recyclers do here on Earth – they sort material by its magnetic strength, so that magnetic material, like ordinary steel, can be separated from the more valuable stainless steel. steel, which is not magnetic.
In this UT video, we describe why in situ resource utilization is useful for all kinds of things.
On the Moon, when the magnet is turned off, the magnetic earth rests on top of the non-magnetic type. And since the magnetic soil is also much more susceptible to microwaves, the distribution process can increase the amount of energy the material absorbs by 60 to 80 percent.
It’s an absurd improvement and one that could dramatically reduce the size of the microwave power supply needed for such a mission. Given the weight of some microwave power supplies, any reduction in weight can dramatically reduce the cost of the overall program.
The paper also looks at other potential methods of making landing pads, including polymer-based of paver-based pads. However, the cost effectiveness of using in situ resources, such as those in the microwave sintering project, is greatest at the current price point of getting equipment into orbit.
Although the price may drop significantly in the coming decades, this technique seems like one of the best for Artemis mission planners who hope to land a reusable rocket on the Moon once again this decade. For now, the next research steps will include testing the microwave power source and doing similar tests on Earth in a simulated lunar environment, including in a vacuum. If some microwaved meals are anything to go by, smelling the resulting material might not be the best idea.
This article was originally published on The universe today of Andy Thomaswick. Read the original article here.