ISRU LAUNCH & LANDING PAD
At the end of 2015, PISCES completed construction of the first robotically-built lunar landing pad in Hawai’i. Partnering with NASA SwampWorks, Honeybee Robotics, ARGO, and the Hawaii County Dept. of Research and Development, this unique additive manufacturing project was completed using locally-sourced basalt and PISCES’ planetary rover, ‘Helelani’. The rover was fitted with a leveling blade and robotic arm to complete the work, successfully grading and leveling the construction site. A NASA SwampWorks team remotely controlled Helelani from their headquarters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to complete the final phase of the project, laying 100 basalt pavers to form a launch and landing pad surface. The project served as a precursory exercise for NASA’s upcoming Lunar Prospector mission on the surface of the Moon.
The landing pad project’s significance not only demonstrates possibilities for robotic additive manufacturing, but also furthers progress in ISRU technologies that can build structures on places like the Moon and Mars. Since the Hawaii basalt landing pad pavers are similar in chemical composition to the regolith (dirt) found on Mars and the Moon, the project is a critical development in additive construction techniques utilizing in-situ materials.
Following completion, PISCES tested the launch pad’s structural integrity by staging a rocket blast to assess the strength and durability of the basalt pavers. They showed structural properties exceeding residential concrete.
Landing pads will be crucial in future space missions. Spacecrafts can cause high velocity dust storms during take-off and landing, blasting planetary dust in all directions. These jet-propelled sandblasts could render significant damage to neighboring structures and space equipment. Landing pads offer a flat, stable surface to prevent such damages.