The MINAR 5 campaign’s log


10-19-2017. Facing the campaign ending.
The works at Boulby mine are about to finish, and it is time to pack. During the next weeks data acquired in the MINAR-5 campaign will be analyzed by the Team in Luleå. The campaign has been very satistactory. All the instruments have been running as expected, and our Team has had a wonderful interaction and collaboration with other teams and with the astronaut Mattias Maurer, what is very useful to strength our collaboration with the UK Centre for Astrobiology in Edinburgh, UK.





Polygon chamber mapping and 3D image from InXpace. Credits: LTU Atmospheric Science Group




10-18-2017. InXpace played the leading role of the day.
Dissemination of the scientific work is a more a more important concern for organizers of campaigns such as MINAR and among people in charge of science management in general. This edition has not been an exception, and several events took place along the day, taken advantage of the fact that experiments are satisfactorily seamlessly running.
The most remarkable of them was the demonstration of the InXpace 3D instrument to the astronaut Matthias Maurer, who was trained in its operation by Atmospheric Science Group’s team. The activity consisted of the use of the instrument mounted on a movable platform, that is to say, in a trolley. This method produces lesser distortions and errors than when it is manually operated, what poses interesting ideas for its further development. Maurer showed himself impressed by the performance of such a simple and cheap device, as well as by the varied application possibilities it offers.
Then, the team gave a live interview for the UK Centre for Astrobiology’s Facebook account, and also for the British tv Channel 4, in which they explained the highlights of HABIT to a broad public. The instrument raises a great expectation and interest with no doubt.
Otherwise, HABIT EM keeps on running the last experiment implemented, showing significant results in the conductivity data from the vessels containing brines. A thorough analysis will be required to find extract useful conclusions.
Metabolt also continued the same experiment, and its data showed an expected evolution of the measurements. The metabolic processes in the sample reached a stabilization point, which is coherent with the exhaustion of the added nutrients, so it could be said that it has been successful in the detection and monitoring of metabolic activity within the used salt samples.
Nothing to remark about PACKMAN and PES, which are gathering data regularly and without showing any abnormal readings.

Arrangement of InXpace 3D in a trolley, training of Matthias Maurer in its operation and plots from Metabolt data.




THE INSTRUMENTS

HABIT
With no doubt, it is the flagship project of those carried out by the Atmospheric Science Group, some of which, in turn, are related to the development of this instrument.HABIT is conceived to study the formation of liquid aqueous solutions on Mars’ surface, which has become the cornerstone of the upcoming planet’s exploration regarding the inquiry on its present habitability.The Engineering Model (HABIT EM) carried to Boulby mine, shows the advanced state of the project, and the campaign is meaning a real acid test for the instrument, which eventually will be send to Mars on board the ESA/Roscosmos’ ExoMars 2020 mission.


PACKMAN
It is a low-cost and robust instrument intended to monitor the space radiation reaching the low atmosphere and surface of the Earth, which is more intense in the Arctic regions around the magnetic poles. Though this radiation is thought to be relevant in the climate processes, and it affects human infrastructures, it is not well known, and only scarce and spatially fragmented data have been collected so far. The PACKMAN project aims to the installation of a whole network of monitoring stations to provide real-time data of the space weather, which eventually can support different kind of studies.


Metabolt
Initially, this instrument was born as a support to refine HABIT’s conductivity measurements calibration. Yet, along the way, it has acquired new facets, becoming a metabolism monitor which will be an important part of HABIT progress. Boulby campaign is meaning a crucial milestone in its development, which has still a long way ahead to traverse and promising prospects to fulfil.


InXpace 3D mapping
This 3D mapping system is based on an innovative idea and has generated a keen interest among the campaign organizers and participants because of its spectacular (and useful) visual outcomes. Beyond this, its scientific applications are numerous and varied, including Mars exploration and Earth observation studies, which can have in image analysis a valuable reference.





10-17-2017. Resuming the 3D imaging works.
The 3D mapping tasks have proceeded with new tests to refine the InXpace 3D mapping instrument’s performance. In particular, it was set up to work in a close range, and high precision images of a single rock on the ground of the MarsYard were captured to be submitted to the 3D mapping. A hand-held camera is used to get the same set of images, which serve as a parallel reference for the process, assuring this way that the results can be validated.
In addition, field tests were carried out in the MarsYard as a preparation for the scheduled mapping of the Polygon chamber, which will be carried out this week.
Regarding HABIT, the measurements from the new salts added in some of its vessels in form of brines have yielded significant results: the process of dehydration has been identified from the conductivity data obtained, which will be highly valuable for the calibration of the BOTTLE unit in order to refine the capability of establishing the water content. More samples for new runs were collected.
Metabolt results after the last days of operations, have led to the team to decide leaving the current experiment running till the end of the campaign. Some data recorded so far are promising, and suggested the convenience of keeping on monitoring the progress of the metabolic activity.
PACKMAN and PES runs proceed full capacity and with no problem, providing useful dataset. This is good news, taking into account that they are going to be left working in the mine beyond the campaign.

Sampled rock, 3d image obtained from it, and performace of the tests of a chamber mapping. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group.




10-16-2017. Checking the results from the continuous weekend operations.
On this occasion, it was time to focus on the collection of data gathered during the weekend. The team’s primary goal of the day was to analyse the records of HABIT and Metabolt to aim this week’s work regarding the results obtained.
HABIT did not register any sight of deliquescence within the added samples, which suggested the change of salts to proceed with the tests. Some new samples from the Polygon chamber and natural brines collected in the mine were put into BOTTLE’s vessels to start a new trial.
ENVPACK unit’s measurements were nominal, but the team found some surprising peaks in the incident UV values, and now it must be inquired whether they are natural, unexpected signals or artefacts from the sensor.
Metabolt, for its part, registered changes in some of the monitored parameters (conductivity and amount of evolved gases), which are coherent with the course of metabolic activity, though the team maintained a cautious attitude about them, and they will wait one more day to see if a clearer pattern can be inferred from the data. In any case, the connections of all its sensors were secured, and the functioning of the instrument is optimal.
PACKMAN and PES worked efficiently, and the wire connection to the internet was finally put in place, so they are providing real-time data from now on.
As for the 3D mapping assignments, nothing new was done, apart from discussing the shortcomings appreciated during the las EVA simulation (last Friday), in order to improve the performance of the next scheduled one, which will take place on Wednesday.
The outreach activities kept on being intense: there was a Facebook live event in which HABIT and Metabolt were brilliantly introduced to the general public and, importantly, to the astronaut Matthias Maurer, who attends the campaign as representative of the European Space Agency.

Plots of some measurements obtained and presentation of HABIT to Matthias Maurer. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group.




10-13-2017. Time for the outreach.
Last Friday was a day in which scientific work was exposed to the public in a remarkable outreach activity consisting of the performance of an Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). The simulation, which was scheduled as a trial of the operations on the surface of other planet, was livestreamed, and counted on the participation of the Teaching Team as the “Science Team”, while the Atmospheric Science Group’s team played the starring role of “The Rover”, which included the real time InXpace 3D mapping demonstration.
It must be highlighted that the performance was a clamorous success among critics and audience alike.
The main goal of the EVA simulation, however, was to reproduce certain conditions which could be found in such an activity during a mission eventually developed on the surface of Mars or the Moon, in order to implement useful operational protocols.
HABIT’s BOTTLE unit was filled with sampled salts from the mine, namely Potash in Halite, Halite, Rehydrated Halite, Potash, and Polyhalite, to collect the correspondent conductivity measurements to monitor their hydration process along the weekend.
Another team from NASA Ames is running a parallel experiment aimed to the mineralogical characterization of the same salts, as well as to the search for organics in them. The results from these studies will be an interesting reference for those to be carried out on HABIT data, and could provide clues for the further development of the instrument.
Metabolt was also provided with soil samples in which the presence of microorganisms is high, to test the performance of the instrument in detecting metabolic activity by monitoring the evolved gases from the sample. The change in electric conductivity through it as the metabolic activity proceed will be also characterized, though the sensors for this latter experiment will have to be connected in later runs.
PACKMAN keeps on running full capacity, and the different modules of PES show a coherent functioning, showing the expected behaviour when measurements from different locations have been taken.

Previous briefing and development of the EVA simulation. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group

HABIT's BOTTLE unit filled with the sampled salts and PACKMAN and PES working on their location. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group




THE TEAM

Anshuman Bhardwaj


He is the head of the team during the campaign as the most veteran and seasoned scientist of the members. He is an expert (among other things) in remote sensing based image processing, and as such he is on charge of the 3D mapping of the mine by means of the InXpace 3D mapping instrument, besides the general coordination of the works.


Álvaro Soria Salinas


His completing his doctoral thesis with a work closely related to the development of HABIT, and he is therefore responsible for the operations of the HABIT Engineering Model during the MINAR campaign.


Thasshwin Mathanlal


His work within Atmospheric Science Group is mainly focused on the testing of PACKMAN and PES instruments, as well as of the InXpace 3-D system, which has been developed by him. Therefore, his main tasks are centered on the functioning of the respective prototypes.


Miracle Israel Nazarious


Responsible for the development of Metabolt instrument's related experiments. He is also deeply involved in HABIT testing regarding several aspects of the foreseen instrument’s operations on Mars.





10-12-2017. Sampling day.
The working day at Boulby mine included an intense collection of samples from different points, which will be prepared for its incorporation to the instruments. Part of them will be also submitted to further analysis upon arrival to Luleå.
Halite, polyhalite (mineral salts composed of Sodium chloride and potassium, calcium and magnesium sulfate respectively), and potash (different water-soluble forms of potassium), in addition to some natural brines present in the mine were collected to be put into HABIT’s BOTTLE unit. The objective is to study their hydration processes from the conductivity measurements of the instrument.
The Metabolt’s sensor connection issue was fixed without further ado, and the instrument have been providing some environmental data so far. After a fine calibration, the experiment will proceed with addition of soil samples whose conductivity changes under the changing environment, both the external and that within the sample itself.
The wired connection to the web for PACKMAN was finally installed, and it was set up not without an arduous configuration effort. Fortunately, both units of the instrument are working full capacity and providing useful datasets.
Perpetual Environmental Station is as well performing satisfactorily from the mine, while waiting for the definitive selection of a suitable location to insert it in the ground, where it will be left working beyond the campaign ending. By the way, a unit of PACKMAN has been accepted to be installed in Edinburgh, the headquarters of the UK Centre for Astrobiology, organizer of the MINAR programme. This means a step forward in the gradual establishment of a wide network of instruments intended to continuously monitor the space weather effects on Earth’s surface.
3D mapping work proceeded with the capture of overlapping images of a stalactite chamber in the mine, as well as the acquisition of the correspondent measurements to perform the further 3D generation processing. Besides, a rehearsal of the outreach activity consisting of a 3D mapping of the MarsYard was carried out.

Sampling in the darkness. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group

Salty pond, stalactites and PACKMAN and PES instruments. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group




10-11-2017. Acquiring an optimal work pace.
The team is fully integrated in the field-site and, apart from some minor issues, the instruments are functioning satisfactorily, so the work pace has already reached its optimal level.
Salts from the mine were collected to be used in HABIT-EM’s BOTTLE unit, though the perchlorates for the rest of its vessels are yet to come. The samples were taken at different depths from the so called Polygon site, a chamber within the mine whose walls and roof present a curious polygonal pattern of the salts they are compose of.
Metabolt, an instrument which is supporting the conductivity measurements of HABIT, was assembled and seemed to have suffered a little damage in the connection of one of its sensors. But the solutions it will be filled with are ready, and the soil sample from the field site which is going to be used as a measuring control is prepared, so everything proceeds fairly as scheduled regarding this experiment.
Both PACKMANs, that installed on the surface out of the mine and the one down in the MarsYard, are running without problem. PACKMAN monitors the incident space radiation and the local spatial components of the Earth magnetic field. Though it is intended to be installed in the Arctic region, where the radiation is significant, in this campaign it will provide an interesting vertical profile of the correspondent parameters along the ground up to 1 km depth, the distance between the surface and the mine laboratory.
However, the 3D mapping keeps on being the flagship activity, at least from the point of view of the rest of the teams, and it has caught the attention of the educational people, who has asked for a real-time demonstration. And Miracle Israel Nazarious was interviewed for the Boulby Underground Laboratory facebook site!

Taking salts samples and ancillary measurements for the 3D mapping of the polygon chamber. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group

Test of PACKMAN, detail of the polygon chamber and preparation of Metabolt instrument. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group




10-10-2017. Second day in Boulby mine; first one of proper field-site work.
The first day of proper field-site activities began with intensity in the Boulby mine’s facilities, in particular in the MarsYard, where all the instruments are to operate throughout the campaign.
However, not all of them could initiate the scheduled measurements, due to minor setbacks related to logistic, such as the need of a wired internet connection for the appropriate functioning of the Perpetual Environmental Station (PES) which was not available. When facing a field site campaign, it is impossible to foresee every single detail in advance, so it is unavoidable to come to little mishaps sooner or later (the sooner they come up, the easier they can be solved).
Hopefully, the problem will be fixed within a couple of days without having any impact in the experiment.
HABIT EM showed an optimal performance and all its sensors are working perfectly, so the ENVPACK unit is already collecting data from its location in the MarsYard. As for the BOTTLE unit, some of its vessels have to be filled with natural salts to be sampled from the mine, and the others with some selected Martian-like perchlorates before starting to take conductivity measurements with regards to hydration process.
A parallel experiment related to the calibration of the conductivity measurements using soil samples will be also implemented when HABIT EM is fully operative.
Besides, an optimal location to settle PES has been pointed on site, while waiting the installation of the connection cable, and a preliminary test of the so called InXpace 3D mapping instrument, a prototype of imaging instrument which is going to be used for getting a 3D map of the area, was carried out with astonishing results.
It is worth remarking that this task has raised a keen interest from the rest of the teams, and even of the organizers of the campaign, who are thinking of scheduling similar works in further editions of the MINAR campaign with improved equipment.
Finally, and regarding the outreach activities, there was a closer contact with the educational team, whose members took interest in knowing details of the instrumentation and experiments, and asked for them to each member of the Atmospheric Science Group team. We will be attentive to the possible outcome of this meeting…

The team about entering the mine for the first time, and starting the preliminary works once inside the lab. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group

Results of the first test of the InXpace 3D mapping instrument. Credits: Atmospheric Science Group




10-09-2017. The Atmospheric Science Group’s team in the MINAR 5 campaign started the preliminary works in the Boulby mine.
After the arrival last Sunday to Whitby, the lodging village for the expeditioners, the campaign started out with the initial instruments inspection, to assure nothing had come up during the travel before taking them to the mine.
All the teams met each other and they presented their respective experiments and, since the educational outreach is a constant concern within the NASA Spaceward Bound programme, time was devoted to interact with the educational activities responsible persons in order to provide ideas for the scheduled ones.
Finally, the location of the different instruments in the mine was planned, and the logistic needs were posed before the installation and the beginning of the operations.

Arrival of the expedition to Whitby and unboxing of the equipment. Credit: Atmospheric Science Group.

Transportation of the equipment to the mine and first briefing. Credit: Atmospheric Science Group.