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The Main Aim
The purpose of Red Igloo is to use robotic systems and local resources to build living quarters on Mars at a relatively low cost in advance of a manned mission.
The robotic hardware travels to Mars and lands on the surface using existing, proven techniques. The basic construction unit consists of three main elements, the Lander, the Boom Arm and the material collector. The whole thing takes up less space than one cubic metre.
What is new about this system?
It represents a new attitude to space exploration that has to do with infrastructure. One off missions are costly. Space exploration so far has taken the form of one off missions that add to further exploration in the form of information. This is not a probe. It's not a glance it's a footstep.
This system produces an asset in perpetuity. This is a way we can ad something to space exploration that requires little to no maintenance and returns lasting infrastructure.
It contributes to the push for humans on Mars while being completely independent. If the manned mission should get there first this is still worth while for future missions. If the house is built and there are delays in the manned mission the house will wait till they get there. It's a basic building block that can be developed and added to.
What can be learned?
It's inevitable that in meeting the practical challenges to achieve this goal we will learn so much about Mars and the elements that make it up. You learn so much about a world when you venture to do something in it.
Landed Fig 1
Once having landed the collector drives off the landing platform. If the lander does not arrive on ground that is flat and level enough the collector will be used to tow it to a better location.
Extension Fig 2
The collector is then used to extend the boom arm.
Clearing Fig 3
The next stage is to clear the area around the lander. This area is a circle with the radius of the boom arm. It must be cleared of any rocks that might prevent the boom arm from completing a circular sweep around the lander. The boom pivots on the lander and is driven through wheels on the bonding head at the end of the boom.
The Collector has a fork lift arrangement at one end. The fork's vertical range extends from ground level to about half a metre from the ground. They can be brought together at the centre or spread to the width of the collector. It uses these forks to pick up any rocks that might be in the way and take them outside the range of the boom arm.
Gathering Fig 4
The collector travels over the surrounding area sucking up dust particles from the surface like a vacuum cleaner. A filter at the nozzle insures only particles below a given size are collected. If the right location is chosen there should be absolutely no need for rock crushing. The first area to be covered by the collector is the circular path of the bonding head. It gathers up all the loose dust along this path until it reaches solid permafrost.
Wheels on the bonding head drive it at one speed in one direction. It takes dust gathered by the collector and bonds it to the permafrost. On each pass it builds up layers of bonded dust in the low-lying areas until it has established a level foundation.
Loading Fig 5
Each time the collector has gathered a full load of dust it returns to the lander. It closes off the vacuum system and opens an exit chute so the fan can blow the dust it is carrying into the hopper at the base of the boom. From there a conveyer belt carries the dust particles to another hopper which feeds the bonding head.
Cat Flap Fig 6
To allow the collector continued access to the boom an opening has to be left at the base of what will be the door of the structure. On every cycle of the boom the collector must stand at the Cat Flap and hold a lintel so the bonding head can pass from one side of the door to the other. If for some reason the bonding head should fall into the gap the collector is able to pick it up with its forklift system. The collector's wheels can be turned far enough to allow it to crab sideways. In this way it can carry the bonding head back up to the other side of the doorway.
Bonding Head Fig 7
Once the cat flap is high enough the lintel is left in place and bonded dust is built up over it to continue the wall.
Research is needed to determine exactly what the design of the bonding head will be. Much depends on the make up of the Martian soil. It may be possible to bond the dust with heat in the way glass powder is bonded to pottery. It doesn't matter if the construction takes many months. A bonding agent may have to be brought from Earth or may be found locally. Power that can be generated by solar panels on Mars is marginal so alternatives will probably have to be looked into.
To allow for later installation of windows and doors the bonding process is turned off at precise moments in each cycle. Contrary to the illustration un-bonded dust will have to be held in place with a thin skin of bonded dust on the inside and outside of the slots. This bed of loose dust allows the bonding process to be continued on higher layers.
Sky Light Fig 8
When the hole at the top becomes small enough to fit a window the bonding head stops. The boom arm folds back down on to the lander. The collector drags the lander and arm out through the cat flap to a new location and the whole process starts again to produce another habitat, and so on for as long as the hardware will run.
Once the main structure can be seen to be complete an inflatable interior skin, the door and windows are sent via an unmanned mission. They land on the surface not too far from the main structure and can also be seen to have arrived in tact.
Arrival Fig 9
When humans arrive they carefully remove the parts of the shell where the doors and windows will go. Depending on the consistency of the finished material this may be done with a small hammer or even a saw. Cinder blocks can be cut in this way.
Home Base Fig 10
The inflatable interior is filled with oxygen generated on site.
The igloo provides an exoskeleton that protects the inflatable against radiation, wind, dust and micrometeoroid impact.