Subsurface robotic exploration for geomorphology, astrobiology and mining during MINAR6 campaign, Boulby Mine, UK: part I (Rover development)

Thasshwin Mathanlal* (Corresponding Author), Anshuman Bhardwaj, Abhilash Vakkada Ramachandran, María-Paz Zorzano, Javier Martín-Torres, Charles S. Cockell, Sean Paling, Tom Edwards

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Autonomous exploration requires the use of movable platforms that carry a payload of instruments with a certain level of autonomy and communication with the operators. This is particularly challenging in subsurface environments, which may be more dangerous for human access and where communication with the surface is limited. Subsurface robotic exploration, which has been to date very limited, is interesting not only for science but also for cost-effective industrial exploitation of resources and safety assessments in mines. Furthermore, it has a direct application to exploration of extra-terrestrial subsurface environments of astrobiological and geological significance such as caves, lava tubes, impact or volcanic craters and subglacial conduits, for deriving in-situ mineralogical resources and establishing preliminary settlements. However, the technological solutions are generally tailor-made and are therefore considered as costly, fragile and environment-specific, further hindering their extensive and effective applications. To demonstrate the advantages of rover exploration for a broad-community, we have developed KORE (KOmpact Rover for Exploration); a low-cost, re-usable, rover multi-purpose platform. The rover platform has been developed as a technological demonstration for extra-terrestrial subsurface exploration and terrestrial mining operations pertaining to geomorphological mapping, environmental monitoring, gas leak detections and search and rescue operations in case of an accident. The present paper, the first part of a series of two, focuses on describing the development of a robust rover platform to perform dedicated geomorphological, astrobiological and mining tasks. KORE was further tested in the Mine Analogue Research 6 (MINAR6) campaign during September 2018 in the Boulby mine (UK), the second deepest potash mine in Europe at a subsurface depth of 1.1 km, the results of which will be presented in the second paper of this series. KORE is a large, semi-autonomous rover weighing 160 kg with L × W × H dimensions 1.2 m × 0.8 m × 1 m and a payload carrying capacity of 100 kg using 800 W traction power that can power to a maximum speed of 8.4 km h−1. The rover can be easily dismantled in three parts facilitating its transportation to any chosen site of exploration. Presently, the main scientific payloads on KORE are: (1) a three-dimensional mapping camera, (2) a methane detection system, (3) an environmental station capable of monitoring temperature, relative humidity, pressure and gases such as NO2, SO2, H2S, formaldehyde, CO, CO2, O3, O2, volatile organic compounds and particulates and (4) a robotic arm. Moreover, the design of the rover allows for integration of more sensors as per the scientific requirements in future expeditions. At the MINAR6 campaign, the technical readiness of KORE was demonstrated during 6 days of scientific research in the mine, with a total of 22 h of operation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-125
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Astrobiology
Volume19
Issue number2
Early online date3 Oct 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • astrobiology
  • 3D-mapping
  • COTS
  • geomorphology
  • mining
  • Rover development

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