The 5th Mine Analog Research (MINAR 5) campaign at Boulby mine, England, has just started out with a high involvement of the Atmospheric Science Group, which has planned an intense work schedule including a wide series of experiments to be conducted. The campaign is framed in the NASA’s Spaceward Bound 2017 programme, and focus on different science areas, some of which are of special interest for the upcoming Mars exploration missions’ objectives, such as the inquiry into the preservation of biosignatures in salts, the study of the type of organisms inhabiting them, or the better characterization of evaporite deposits.
Atmospheric Science Group participates in this edition with several experiments, among which the first field site trial of the HABIT Engineering Model (HABIT-EM) stands out. The broad goal regarding this instrument is to test it in continuous operation in a representative Mars analogue environment, particularly concerning the response of hydration and dehydration of the salts within its BOTTLE unit in an uncontrolled environment.
As for the ENVPACK unit, the measurements gathered by its sensors will provide the environmental context, being supported by using external commercial sensors to assure their accuracy and to check their appropriate calibration. Besides, prototypes of the Perpetual Environmental Station (PES), and Particle Counter K-index Magnetic Anomaly (PACKMAN) are being also tested. Remarkably, the information collected by all these instruments serves as a reference for the studies performed by other participating teams, for instance those on microbial life deep underground.
Up to 30 researchers from different institutions across Europe, NASA, SETI Institute, and Kalam Centre, will be working in the testing of life detection equipment and new protocols for deep subsurface exploration, aimed to the development of science and technology for robotic exploration of Mars and the Moon.
Boulby mine is a 1,1 km deep active mine excavated in a billion years old salt deposit formed within the Zechstein Sea, which during the Permian period covered western Europe. It has been used as a field site in which research on planetary exploration and testing of new related technologies have been carried out for the last years, counting on dedicated facilities such as the Boulby Underground Laboratory, which includes the Boulby International Subsurface Astrobiology Laboratory and the MarsYard.