Mar 15, 2018 | By Tess

A team in Spain has used state-of-the-art 3D mapping technologies to create an expansive and highly detailed 3D scan of a lava tube. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), it is the largest 3D scan of a lava tube in existence.

(Image: Vigea / Tommaso Santagata / ESA)

What does ESA have to do with cave and volcano 3D scanning missions, you might ask. Well, it turns out that lava tubes—subterranean channels and caves formed by lava flowing beneath the surface of hardened lava—are not dissimilar to formations on Mars and the Moon.

Places like Lanzarote, Spain—where the 3D scan was captured—provide excellent training and simulation environments for astronauts. And detailed 3D maps of the underground landscape can provide vital information about the lava tube’s origins and structure.

The 3D scanning initiative, called the Pangaea-X expedition, was undertaken by speleologist Tommaso Santagata and his colleagues Umberto Del Vecchio and Marta Lazzaroni. It was realized through a collaboration with the Cabildo of Lanzarote and the University of Padova, Italy.

(Image: L. Ricci / ESA)

With a Leica BLK360 3D imaging scanner in tow, the Pangaea-X team set off into “La Cueva de los Verdes," an expansive network of volcanic caves in Lanzarote which spans about 8 km in length. To give an idea of the lava tube’s scale: some of its sections are reportedly the size of a residential street lined with houses!

Leica’s BLK360 3D scanner was released on the market in 2016 for a whopping $16K. The price tag seems somewhat justified, however, when you learn that the imaging device is the lightest and most compact scanner of its type. With it, the explorers were able to capture a 3D model of a 1.3 km lava tube section in just three hours.

In addition to the Leica BLK360 3D scanner, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer came equipped with Leica’s Pegasus Backpack for testing. The Pegasus Backpack is a “wearable reality capture sensor platform” capable of capturing geometric data without a satellite signal thanks to a sophisticated system of five cameras and two 3D imagine LIDAR profilers.

Leica BLK360 3D scanner

With the wearable device, Maurer was able to capture detailed 3D maps of the lava tube by simply walking through it. “Hiking and performing geological mapping with the high-tech backpack was easy and efficient,” he said. “I can perfectly see it integrated in our spacesuits for future exploration missions to the Moon or Mars.”

The expedition itself was completed last year, but the results of the imaging mission are now being finalized and released. One of the more noteworthy outcomes is “the largest 3D scan of a lava tube on Earth.”

Ultimately, the 3D mapping data captured in Lanzarote can help scientists to not only better understand the terrestrial phenomenon of lava caves, which are environments shielded from cosmic radiation and micrometeorites, but also to seek potential habitat solutions for humans on Mars or the Moon.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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C Muir wrote at 4/11/2018 2:23:43 PM:

"...for a whopping $16K" ??? that's actually very cheap for a 3D scanner.

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