Discussions for the provisions of manned lunar or Martian bases often center around the placement of various types of early stage settlement habitats, ranging from the cylindrical surface based “tuna can” of the Mars Society to an adaptable and expedient deployment of lightweight inflatable or aerogel rigidizable structures. Most observers consider that the most suitable types of longer term bases should be located underground, providing natural protection from radiation, extreme temperatures, and enabling the potentials for durable and long term life support installations and well defined operational systems. Justifications and motivations for the various habitat profiles are multiple, considerations being variously restrained by payload capacity and expediency factors. Even so, it is very probable that the designation of incremental robotically enabled, unmanned or partially manned missions will bring forward the capacity to prepare basic and continuous underground facilities in advance of larger and more permanent incoming manned crews. The preparation of these types of underground excavations and architectures through fully autonomous vehicles can be typically explored and well developed within the terrestrial basis, proving viability and many key materials attributes before verification payloads or deployment issues are undertaken. Although current capacity is limited, and lander based regolith excavation systems are in preliminary stage, it is effective to consider autonomous robotic underground excavation vehicles on Lunar or Mars subsurface. The development and testing of these advanced systems could produce many spin-off benefits for currently available terrestrial capabilities, thereby enabling the rapid development of infrastructure sites, underground transportation systems, large scale housing and constructions, roads and essential utilities, and protected or enabled natural and agricultural resources which might have site specific or unique geographical requirements.
Underground excavation and terraforming process are an essential part of a life supporting eco-system and built architecture. Demonstrated abilities in these areas will inform and enable a parallel process for mining and the extraction of raw material and ores including iron and other metals, water ice, regolith based oxygen separations and even rare elements such as Helium 3. Such a mutual process can be enabled at many levels through the solar furnace or fission power plant facilities, which can also be used for minerals refinement, processing and storage and the further development of manufacturing facilities, integrated industrial structures and frameworks and life support systems. Such inclusive methodologies will meet the requisites and functions of the solar system expansion goals through the placement of integrated infrastructure components. Space originated power and fuel supplies and innovative robotic excavating vehicles will enable the development of sustainable underground settlements. Along with robotically enabled excavating techniques, the provision of related robotic and self-sufficient materials handling techniques, and local “concrete” or melded regolith components, including 3D printed construction techniques together with inflatable hard dome shells or fully-automatic-blini-production systems, provides a reference point for a comprehensive Earth based test bed and the further extrapolation into expedient design for space based implementation. A master plan would include excavating techniques for underground construction, crater excavations, water ice and other rare elements sequestration.