Paper on MINAR 5 campaign

The results of the works carried out by all the scientific teams participating in the fifth edition of the Mine Analogue Research (MINAR 5) programme, have been published in the paper Subsurface scientific exploration of extraterrestrial environments (MINAR 5): analogue science, technology and education in the Boulby Mine, UK. The Group of Atmospheric Science took part in this campaign with several experiments related to its main research projects, including a first testing of the Engineering Model of HABIT instrument.

Cover of the journal.

The paper has been published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, and describes the development of the campaign, organized by the UK Centre for Astrobiology in collaboration with Spaceward Bound NASA and the Kalam Centre, India, to test instruments and methods for the robotic and human exploration of deep environments on the Moon and Mars.

Boulby mine is a 1,1 km deep active mine excavated in a billion years old salt deposit showing a series of features that make a Mars analogue site out of it. 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 Mars Yard.

GAS’ team was integrated by the PhD students Álvaro Soria Salinas, Thasshwin Mathanlal, and Miracle Israel Nazarious, led by the Associate Senior Lecturer Anshuman Bhardwaj. They carried up to 5 experiments to be driven in the Martian-like environment the mine offers.

HABIT (HabitAbility, Brine Irradiation and Temperature) is the most outstanding of them with no doubt, and the prototype tested was the Engineering Model; a quite refined one in the long way to build the definitive instrument to be sent to Mars. It is conceived, among other things, to investigate the atmosphere/regolith water interchange and the subsurface hydration on Mars surface, and Boulby mine offers exceptional conditions to test the performance of some of its sensors. The campaign’s trials have provided important information to keep on developing the instrument in several aspects (materials, electronics, calibration and others).

METABOLT instrument was initially 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 can track the signature of life and quantify the metabolic activity in soil or regolith. Boulby campaign has meant a crucial milestone in its development, having been demonstrated its operability in uncontrolled remote environment.

PACKMAN (PArticle Counter k-index Magnetic ANomaly), for its part, is an instrument which monitors γ, β, α radiation and muons with two Geiger counters, and includes environmental sensors to monitor pressure, temperature, RH and magnetic perturbations. It is equipped with data archiving, GPS and communication capabilities, so that it can be functioning autonomously and providing a constant and steady flux of data. Even after about one year of MINAR 5, probably the deepest placed particle counter of its kind, the Boulby PACKMAN is still operational and providing useful data to the research group.

During the MINAR 5 campaign, a comparative study of the radiation measured on the surface and within the mine was conducted by using two units, which showed the validity and good performance of the instrument, whose data can be used for different scientific applications. A unit of PACKMAN was left within the mine to provide remotely accessible background particle data, and to test remote access capabilities over a long time.

PES (Perpetual Environmental Station) is a self-sustaining instrument that monitors a series of environmental and geological parameters, and which is designed to operate in harsh conditions for an indefinite period while providing real-time data. A unit was also left within the mine, though it has no buried sensors as the final instrument will do.

3D mapping image.
Credits: GAS.

Finally, the eXploration of space 3D (In-Xpace 3D), a 3D imaging system conceived to provide 3D mappings offering the possibility of performing further sensing analysis on them, apart from another immediate uses they can be apply to.

The testing during the MINAR 5 campaign served to validate the short-range and long-range capability of the system, for deep subsurface exploration and mapping of terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments, both in lit and dark conditions. The successful results for the In-Xpace 3D have now prompted the GAS to develop a fully autonomous rover to provide 3D mapping of such cave-like inhospitable environments with high precision and this rover will be a part of MINAR 6 during September 2018.

See the development of the campaign at the MINAR 5 Log