Igloo Satellite Cabins and Googie Huts: Australia’s Rigid Tents in Antarctica

When researchers head “out into the field” in Antarctica for longer periods of time and need something more robust than a tent, there are Igloo Satellite Cabins and Googie Huts. While unusual in appearance, both fibreglass accommodations are Australian designed and have been serving the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) for decades. The South Pole is one of the most hostile environments our planet has to offer but there is so much we can learn from there. Dedicated scientists battle the cold and harsh winds to uncover new insights into Earth’s history, how our climate is changing and the effect it’s having on polar wildlife.

Igloo Satellite Cabins (Apple Huts)

Igloo Satellite Cabins are known for their distinctive red hue, hence their affectionate nickname Apple Huts. They are a “rigid tent” living quarters for two people—they can hold up to 15 in an emergency—and are quite resilient. Their 250-kilogram frame makes them easy to transport by helicopter anywhere they’re required and they can handle up to 300 kilometres per hour Antarctic winds once setup.

The late Malcolm Wallhead, of Icewall one, had toyed with the idea of an igloo-type accommodation for years but never had the budget to build a mock-up. He got the chance in 1982 when he convinced the AAD his design would fulfil their needs. He had a short turnaround period to put together Igloo Satellite Cabin Number 001 before it was taken and deployed in the field.

The cabin was sent to Magnetic Island, a location close to Davis Station, one of Australia’s three fulltime bases. There it accommodated scientists while they studied penguins. It was a great success but suggestions were still sent back to Wallhead to help improve the design in future iterations. By 1986, the AAD had ordered close to 50. Cabin Number 001 is still in use as a storage shed at Davis today.

Apple Huts have a three-metre diameter and are made up of eight wall and four floor panels. It takes two people about 90 minutes to put one together. They have proved very popular over the years and are used all over the world. Their lifespan is rated for 30 years on the ice.

Googie Huts

With a five-metre width, Googie Huts are bigger than Igloo Satellite Cabins and are mostly seen in “international orange”. Their name comes from Aussie slang because of their egg shape. Googies sit above the ground via a metal support ring connected to three legs. The design prevents snow build-up from occurring on the structure. Researchers access them by a ladder. They’ve been used in Antarctica since 1992.

They were designed by AAD engineer Attila Vrana and manufactured by Icewall One. The first handful made were sent to locations near Mawson Station, another of Australia’s permanent bases, and to Heard Island where they were tested. For one Googie, a windmill was setup and proved to be a successful alternative power source.

Like the Apple Huts, Googies are adaptive and can be used as sleeping facilities, field laboratories, medical accommodations and other required applications. They can comfortably support three people and have made fond memories for many expeditioners.

Photo Credit: Thank you to the Australian Antarctic Division for allowing me to use their image. (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/news/stations/macquarie-island/2016/this-week-at-macquarie-island-14-october-2016/#group-27)


Field Huts (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/antarctic-operations/field-operations/tents-shelters-and-huts/field-huts/)

Field Operations (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/antarctic-operations/field-operations/)

Googie Huts (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/antarctic-operations/field-operations/tents-shelters-and-huts/larger-shelters/googie-huts/)

Going Gaga Over Googies (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/magazine/issue-38-june-2020/history/going-gaga-over-googies/)

Icewall One (https://icewall.com.au/)

Igloo Satellite Cabins: 25 years in Antarctica (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/magazine/issue-14-2008/science/igloo-satellite-cabins-25-years-in-antarctica/)

Igloo Story, The (https://icewall.com.au/static/pdf/the_igloo_story.pdf)

Larger Shelters (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/antarctic-operations/field-operations/tents-shelters-and-huts/larger-shelters/)

Pink Dust (https://icewall.com.au/static/pdf/pink_dust.pdf)

Shelter in Antarctica (https://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/66692/IglooCabin.pdf)

Tasmanian Manufacturing – Icewall One (https://tasmanianmanufacturing.com.au/organisation/view/icewallone)

Tents, Shelters and Huts (https://www.antarctica.gov.au/antarctic-operations/field-operations/tents-shelters-and-huts/)

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