Outer space to deep sea mining

We provide support and funding for a European initiative to transfer technologies from space exploration to the similarly harsh environment of deep potash mining.

Workers in Boulby potash mine

We own the deposits of potash around 1km beneath the UK seabed off the coast of North Yorkshire. At the Boulby Potash Mine, The Crown Estate and mine operators Cleveland Potash Ltd are co-funding an extraterrestrial science and technology programme called MINAR (Mine Analogue Research). This is run by the UK Centre for Astrobiology, based at Edinburgh University, from an underground lab at Boulby.

MINAR is focused on testing and developing space exploration technologies that could also be transferred into mining to improve safety and productivity. For instance, the small, lightweight, sensitive and low power sensors used for investigating the surface of other planets, could also prove useful in mining, for scanning a freshly cut mine face or testing for gas in small spaces.

The deep, dark environment of Boulby mine is the ideal place to test space technologies for the exploration of Mars. In the process, we hope to aid the transfer of high technology from space exploration to safe, effective mining”

Prof. Charles Cockell, Director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology

In recent years, international space technology developers and mining geologists have come together through a series of MINAR workshops, exchanging ideas, exploring synergies between space exploration and mining, and carrying out instrument trials deep underground.

It is anticipated that the MINAR workshops and trials will lead to new devices that may be routinely used underground, to assist day-to-day mining operations. Space technology developers also welcome the opportunity to test planetary exploration instruments in the harsh environment of Boulby mine, before using them on missions. In addition, scientists are looking for evidence of previous life in the mine’s mineral layers, as a guide to what signs of extraterrestrial life might look like.

Prof. Mike Cowling, Chief Scientist at The Crown Estate, said: “We are delighted to support this project, working closely with one of our tenants and key partners to explore technology transfer opportunities that might unlock considerable value in the long term.”