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The Maelstra Barrens is a completely barren stretch of land where the debris from many of the ISA Cruisers (including the New Sun) made landfall, after being hijacked and destroyed by Helghast Leech Pods.
By the time the ISA ground forces had recovered from the loss of their aerial support, the Helghast in that area had already salvaged several ISA Buggies and other equipment. This becomes a slight annoyance later on, as you are forced to fight several of these Buggies.
The pipes that transport refined Petrusite from Tharsis Refinery are spread throughout these barrens, which is why there are many Helghast installations spread throughout it as well (the primary one being the installation you must take out at the end of the level).