Subsurface scientific exploration of extraterrestrial environments (MINAR 5): Analogue science, technology and education in the Boulby Mine, UK

Charles S. Cockell*, John Holt, Jim Campbell, Harrison Groseman, Jean-Luc Josset, Tomaso R. R. Bontognali, Audra Phelps, Lilit Hakobyan, Libby Kuretn, Annalea Beattie, Jen Blank, Rosalba Bonaccorsi, Christopher McKay, Anushree Shirvastava, Carol Stoker, David Willson, Scott McLaughlin, Sam Payler, Adam Stevens, Jennifer WadsworthLoredana Bessone, Matthias Maurer, Francesco Sauro, Javier Martin-Torres, Maria-Paz Zorzano, Anshuman Bhardwaj, Alvaro Soria-Salinas, Thasshwin Mathanlal, Miracle Israel Nazarious, Abhilash Vakkada Ramachandran, Parag Vaishampayan, Lisa Guan, Scott M. Perl, Jon Telling, Ian M. Boothroyd, Ollie Tyson, James Realff, Joseph Rowbottom, Boris Lauernt, Matt Gunn, Shaily Shah, Srijan Singh, Sean Paling, Tom Edwards, Louise Yeoman, Emma Meehan, Christopher Toth, Paul Scovell, Barbara Suckling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The deep subsurface of other planetary bodies is of special interest for robotic and human exploration. The subsurface provides access to planetary interior processes, thus yielding insights into planetary formation and evolution. On Mars, the subsurface might harbour the most habitable conditions. In the context of human exploration, the subsurface can provide refugia for habitation from extreme surface conditions. We describe the fifth Mine Analogue Research (MINAR 5) programme at 1 km depth in the Boulby Mine, UK 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. The geological context in Permian evaporites provides an analogue to evaporitic materials on other planetary bodies such as Mars. A wide range of sample acquisition instruments (NASA drills, Small Planetary Impulse Tool (SPLIT) robotic hammer, universal sampling bags), analytical instruments (Raman spectroscopy, Close-Up Imager, Minion DNA sequencing technology, methane stable isotope analysis, biomolecule and metabolic life detection instruments) and environmental monitoring equipment (passive air particle sampler, particle detectors and environmental monitoring equipment) was deployed in an integrated campaign. Investigations included studying the geochemical signatures of chloride and sulphate evaporitic minerals, testing methods for life detection and planetary protection around human-tended operations, and investigations on the radiation environment of the deep subsurface. The MINAR analogue activity occurs in an active mine, showing how the development of space exploration technology can be used to contribute to addressing immediate Earth-based challenges. During the campaign, in collaboration with European Space Agency (ESA), MINAR was used for astronaut familiarization with future exploration tools and techniques. The campaign was used to develop primary and secondary school and primary to secondary transition curriculum materials on-site during the campaign which was focused on a classroom extra vehicular activity simulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-182
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of Astrobiology
Issue number2
Early online date2 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

The authors thank the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) for their support of the Boulby Underground Science Facility in which MINAR 5 was conducted. Knowledge gained in the execution of STFC grant, ST/M001261/1, was used to advance objectives in MINAR 5. The authors also thank Cleveland Potash and ICL for their generous in-kind and logistics support to MINAR and the underground science facility with which MINAR is made possible. Boris Laurent is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant, RPG-2016-071. SPLIT Research and Development has been funded by three research grants
(UKSA CREST and STFC’s Follow on Fund) between 2013 and 2017, with
support in 2018 by CREST to realise a TRL 5 flight type prototype instrument.
Jon Telling (gas analysis development) is funded in part by UK Space Agency
grant ST/R001421/1.


  • Analog research
  • astrobiology
  • Mars
  • subsurface
  • technology


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