This Robot Just Built A Launch Pad

First Hawaii, then...Space!

PISCES Robot Builder

PISCES Robot Builder

Screenshot by author, from YouTube

Humans have never built another structure on another planet. So far, everything hurled beyond our atmosphere and into the great beyond was constructed on Earth, made by human hands or human-built machines using resources from sweet mother Terra herself. If we want to venture forth into the cosmos, and say, launch a return rocket home, it’d be nice to have a launch pad in place on the alien planet. Instead of hauling a launch pad there, why not make a machine that can use local materials to build one?

Over the course of several months, a remotely-controlled robot from the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration (PISCES) did just that. And now, thanks to Project Manager Rodrigo Romo we can watch that construction in all its impressive, tedious glory.

While the video was released on Tuesday, the project ended in October. Here's how PISCES described the goal:

The project is a first-of-its-kind in Hawaii and aims to robotically build a vertical take-off and landing pad using basalt found on the island. The goal is to successfully build a landing pad on Earth using local materials, so that it can be done in space.

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 cause significant damage to neighboring structures and space equipment. To mitigate this problem, landing pads offer a flat, stable surface to prevent such damages.

This was part of NASA's larger Additive Construction with Mobile Emplacement (ACME) project, which wants to use found materials on alien worlds, builder robots like this one, and 3D printing, to build structures without needing to bring all the parts from Earth. So if a robot can flatten and smooth a tract of the Big Island into a serviceable landing pad on Earth, then cover it in durable interlocking tiles, it's likely a robot on Mars or elsewhere could do the same for a future mission. Good news for space exploration, even better news for getting space explorers home.

Watch it in action below, and see if you can catch the drone in the control room at 3:28. I promise it's at least as thrilling as watching dirt move: