NASA scientists join teams from around the world at Boulby Mine near Whitby

The Mars Rover, NASA and a two-way tie-in with India are just some of the elements of MINAR 8, an international event aimed at bringing scientists and engineers together at Boulby Mine in East Cleveland.

By Louise Perrin
Friday, 6th March 2020, 3:11 pm

The Mine Analogue Research (MINAR) events are held over a fortnight each year at the Boulby Underground Laboratory at Boulby Mine.

This year scientific researchers from across Europe will join those from NASA in the United States and the Kalam Centre in India as they develop technology and science for the exploration of the Moon and Mars.

A team from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories will use a newly-created “Mars pond” in the laboratory’s Mars Yard to test new technology for the search for life on Mars.

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Lulea University's full size planetary exploration rover prototype, designed to detect gases and map underground spaces

A model of the Mars Rover will be guided to the site, take samples from the water and return for NASA scientists to carry out tests and studies as they continue the search for life on Mars.

Such experiments are vital to test instruments and methods for the robotic and human exploration of deep environments on the Moon and Mars.

Also during the MINAR 8 fortnight:

- A team from Sweden will test a full-size planetary exploration rover prototype designed to sniff gases and map underground spaces for exploration of Mars and mine safety on earth

Edinburgh University scientists are testing technology over a kilometre underground to see whether it could be used to measure water activity on Mars

- A team from York University will test underground drone technologies

- The Kalam Centre in India will use the mine for outreach and science education to thousands of schools across India

At a depth of 1.1km Boulby lab at Boulby mine is one of the best locations in the world for underground science – with studies ranging from astrophysics (the search for Dark Matter) to studies of geology, geophysics, climate and the environment.

It also offers unparalleled opportunities to study rare forms of microbial life that live in the deep, dark and salty environment of the mine.

Scientists and engineers are involved in the MINAR project at Boulby Mine

The remote nature of the mine’s caverns and the presence of microbial life make it an excellent site for scientists wanting to develop equipment for searching for life on other planets.

The Boulby Underground Lab is Funded by the UK government’s Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC).

This year the MINAR event will also see the launch of a new outreach programme aimed at remote areas of Scotland.

The aim is to encourage children to build and programme their own mini Mars Rover which will be tested to complete a set of tasks in the Boulby Mars yard this summer.

MINAR, now in its eight year, is a rare and highly successful example of a science and industry partnership, as teams get to work hand in glove with the commercially active mine at ICL Boulby, the only mine in the world processing the mineral polyhalite, an organic ‘super fertilizer’.

ICL UK Vice President and General Manager of ICL Boulby. Andrew Fulton welcomed the event and said: “We are proud to host this great example of science and engineering excellence in the North-East region.

“We see it enhancing technology transfer between Earth and space uses. Many of the things MINAR researchers want to do on other planets, such as detecting gases and mapping geological structures, are the same things we want to do in mines like this.”

Director of Boulby Underground Laboratory Prof. Sean Paling said: “It is really exciting to have the MINAR event teams here again.

“The work they do with us is important and really interesting and although there are a number of underground science laboratories around the world, the work the MINAR teams do with us here is quite unique in the underground science world.”