Exploration of caves on Earth with the help of flying drones can simplify the colonization of Mars

According to one of the previously voiced concepts,the first colonists of Mars may not have to build bases from scratch. For this, there is a better idea - to take advantage of what the local alien nature has already created. And she created, as it turned out, extensive extended caves that were formed by so-called lava tubes. Using them as a permanent habitat would protect the first Martian settlers from extreme surface temperatures, radiation, and asteroids. However, before people can start building underground Martian dwellings, it is necessary to map these Martian caves. How to do it?

The caves once sheltered our distant ancestors,inhabited the earth. Nowadays, people are being offered to go this way again - to become cave dwellers again, but on other planets. And at a different technological level, of course.

Researchers from the Alien Search Institutecivilizations (SETI) in collaboration with the Institute of Astrobotic Technologies (Institute and Astrobotic Technology) demonstrated one of the methods that in the future could simplify the task of finding a suitable habitat for the future colonizer of Mars. A team led by Pascal Lee from the SETI Institute’s planetary research department uses LIDAR-equipped compact drones to create three-dimensional maps of the Loftellir lava cave in Iceland. Specialists were able not only to create a map of this inaccessible and impassable cave, but also learned more about its geological history.

"Our field tests demonstrate the potentialthe effectiveness of the new concept of “contactless and fast” exploration of caves on the Moon and Mars. Some of these natural underground formations may contain significant reserves of water ice, which will simplify the task of colonization. Of course, the atmosphere of the Moon and Mars is very low for the use of drones equipped with a conventional screw system. Therefore, there will most likely be used small aircraft, equipped with compact jet engines, or working on the basis of cold gas, “- commented Lee.

According to Lee, the “contactless and fast” waycave research allows minimizing risks and at the same time increasing the effectiveness of this work in comparison with more traditional methods of research of underground formations. It is much safer to send a flying machine into the cave, which will not directly (physically) interact with the cave environment, unlike the same ground rover.

“The caves are different. When using this approach, the devices do not have to spend a lot of time in difficult conditions: at low temperatures, in the absence of light as an energy source, and also actually working without a communications system with the Earth due to the particular blocking of signals. With all the necessary work, the drone will be able to cope in just a few minutes and then leave the cave safely, ”explains Lee.

The drone prototype that the Lee team usedfor mapping the Icelandic cave was developed by a private space company Astrobotic. It is engaged in the development of cartographic technologies based on LIDAR-systems, using for the three-dimensional visualization of space both optical and lidar (laser-impulse) technology, which allows drones to move autonomously, without relying on GPS data.

“The device literally creates a three-dimensional model of its environment in real time, and then uses it to further advance and explore the cave,” adds Lee.

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Icelandic experiment proved successful - dronecoped with the task in just a few minutes, but the development of the aircraft, which can be used in Martian conditions, will require a lot of effort and work. This is the task of other scientific and engineering teams. In the meantime, a team of SETI and Astrobotic specialists is going to continue improving their 3D scanning and mapping technology for underground caves on Earth.

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