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Center Innovation Fund: KSC CIF

Method for Producing Launch/Landing Pads and Structures

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Current plans for deep space exploration include building landing/launch pads capable of withstanding the rocket blast of much larger spacecraft that that of the Apollo days. The proposed concept will develop lightweight launch and landing pad materials from in-situ materials, utilizing regolith to produce controllable porous cast metallic foam bricks/tiles/shapes. These shapes can be utilized to lay a landing/launch platform, as a construction material or as more complex parts of mechanical assemblies.

Currently there are no methods of constructing landing/launch pads in space on an extra-terrestrial surface for Vertical Takeoff / Vertical Landing (VTVL). This means that there is a risk to the lander vehicle and crew due to rocket engine plume high pressure impingement on the regolith surface, which could cause erosion resulting in high velocity ejecta and a crater.  The ability to robotically construct these pads out of in-situ materials will provide a method of mitigating the risk, decreasing the lifecycle cost and increasing the reliability of vertical take- off and vertical landing vehicles. Robotic precursor missions could use these methods to prepare a landing site by grading it and stabilizing the regolith surface with autonomously emplaced pavers made from in-situ regolith, which have structural integrity and thermal resistance sufficient to withstand the forces and very high temperatures from a chemical rocket engine plume. Ultimately this will increase the safety of the crew during space exploration arrivals and departures.

The current plans for Mars human exploration indicate that it will be necessary to build landing/launch pads capable of withstanding the rocket blast of much larger spacecraft than that of the Apollo days (20-40 metric tons landed mass). In addition, creating building materials from in-situ materials has been receiving increasing focus. To avoid having to land and launch a great distance from the focus area of exploration, methods to furnish a suitable landing area have focused on such techniques as sintering the regolith with a solar concentrator or microwave energy. The problem with these techniques is that they are very time consuming and dense materials are the result.

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