The 6th Mine Analog Research (MINAR 6) campaign at Boulby mine, UK, is about to start, and once more a team representing the Group of Atmospheric Science (GAS), composed of Anshuman Bhardwaj (leading the expedition), Thasshwin Mathanlal and Abhilash Vakkada-Ramachandran will participate to perform several research activities and technology testing.
MINAR is an initiative run by the UK Centre for Astrobiology to develop science and technology for the robotic and human exploration of Mars and the Moon held for the last five years in the Boulby mine, a 1.1 km deep active mine constructed in giant salt deposits laid down quarter of a billion years ago in the Permian, resulting in the formation of kilometre thick salt layering.
On this occasion, the works scheduled consists of the field testing of the rover KORE (standing for KOmpact Rover for Exploration) performance. KORE is a derivative of the learnings from last year’s MINAR 5 mapping exercises performed within the mine and is a matured version of the InXpace 3D instrument to execute real-time 3D mapping of the dark cave-like environments. KORE is a robotic vehicle designed and built by GAS for its application to the field-site collection of data and samples for different studies. It is meant to be a versatile exploration tool which can be equipped with more than 100 kg of scientific instrumentation for all types of environmental monitoring and sensing, and it also consists of a robotic arm for sample collection during the rover operations.
Being in the phase of development, the testing during MINAR 6 will mean a real acid test for the rover, and will provide clues for proceeding with its refinement up to the completion of the definitive configuration. For achieving it, the organization will propose different locations along the days of the campaign that the rover will have to traverse.
Besides, the InXpace 3D mapping system, which was tested for the first time during last year’s campaign (MINAR 5) with excellent results, will be used again to keep on mapping different areas of the mine. This 3D mapping system is based on an innovative idea with numerous and varied scientific applications based on imagery analysis, including Mars exploration and Earth observation studies. KORE is equally beneficial not only for planetary research, but also for everyday mining activities and mine industry in general. KORE can provide the option to remotely explore new areas within the mines for its further expansion in terms of geological considerations, safety issues, and overall environmental impacts. KORE is equipped with LASER gas sensors which can provide crucial and timely information on dangerous gas leaks within a mine environment.
Finally, as a novel experiment, a prototype of the core component for the eventual building of “water farms” will be also tested. It derives from the HABIT’s BOTTLE unit and, like this latter its functioning consists of gathering water vapour from the atmosphere by means of hygroscopic salts, though in this case the goal is to enquire the feasibility of the mechanism for the farming of water on desertic regions where this resource is scarce and means a severe constraint for the socioeconomic development.