A mundane earth technology could become a supercharged tool for exploring the moon

A mundane earth technology could become a supercharged tool for exploring the moon

microwaves are not only useful for reheating leftovers. They can also set up landing pads on other worlds – at least according to a study published by a consortium of scientists from the University of Central Florida, Arizona State University and Cislune, a private company. Her research shows how a combination of sorting the lunar soil and then blasting it with microwaves can create a landing pad for future rockets on the moon – and save any surrounding buildings from being blown up by dust particles traveling at 10,000 kilometers per hour .

This system works in large part because certain minerals on the moon’s surface are magnetic, and these same minerals are also very susceptible to microwave heating. In particular, a type of glassy mineral called ilmenite, which makes up about 1 to 2 percent of the lunar surface, is highly magnetic.

Ilmenite is formed when the moon is hit by small meteors, forming material called agglutinates. Older lunar soils (that is, those not recently destroyed by a meteor) have up to 60 percent of the soil composed of these agglutinates, while “younger” lunar soils have only about 20 percent. So the concentrations are high enough in some places that contain significant amounts of older regolith.

According to this UT interview, understanding regolith will be key to building any type of lunar base.

So if future explorers wanted to build a landing pad, they could zap this older soil with powerful microwaves to sinter it together and create a durable enough surface for a rocket to land on without having to sandblast everything around it. This sandblasting would be particularly nasty since there is no air to slow down the dust particles like there would be on Earth.

The solution seems simple enough – blast the floor with microwaves to sinter it together. Systems can always be improved, however, and this microwave sintering process is no exception. The researchers found that by subjecting the regolith to a process known as conditioning, they could increase the number of microwaves absorbed and therefore the effectiveness of the heating process.

The preparation in this case involves sieving the soil and hitting it with a magnetic field, causing the more magnetic soil to move toward the magnet, while the non-magnetic soil simply falls 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, which allows magnetic material like regular steel to be separated from more valuable stainless steel, which is non-magnetic.

In this UT video, we describe why in situ resource utilization is useful for all sorts of things.

When the magnet on the moon is off, the magnetic earth rests on the non-magnetic type. And since magnetic soil is also much more susceptible to microwaves, the treatment process could 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 their weight could dramatically lower the cost of the overall program.

The paper also looks at other potential methods of creating landing pads, including polymer-based pads through paver-based pads. However, the cost-effectiveness of using in-situ resources such as those employed in the microwave sintering project is greatest when the equipment is currently being put into orbit at a low cost.

While that price could drop significantly in the coming decades, this technique appears to be one of the best for Artemis mission planners hoping to land a reusable rocket on the moon within this decade. For now, the next research steps would involve testing the microwave power source and similar tests on the ground in a simulated lunar environment, including in vacuum. If some microwave dishes are something, smelling the resulting stuff might not be the best idea.

This article was originally published on universe today from Andy Tomaswick. Read the original article here.

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