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Spice mining is the process by which the spice melange was removed from the sands of the planet Arrakis for consumption.

Mining of melange was technically a strip or surface mating operation, disturbing the ecostructure of the planet's surface to a depth of no less than one meter and no more than twelve. The spice itself was found in beds usually within centimeters of the surface that had a mean depth of five meters with a standard deviation of 1.623 meters. Occasional beds of unusually rich, powerful spice were found with mean depths of ten meters. The origin of such unusual veins is not known.

Spice mining was one of the most hazardous and consequently well-paid occupations in the universe. Mining operations were subject to constant dangers from sandstorms, tidal dust basins, spice-blows and, always, the worms. The necessity of rapid transport of huge pieces of equipment added to the hazards. Because of such hazards, members of the Union of Spice Miners (USM) developed a tight society with a strong work ethic philosophy.


The spice era saw little change in mining equipment. The standard single-bed operation consisted of one or two carryalls, a harvester and a factory, which were often attached, four sandcrawlers, and four ornithopters.


The carryall or wing was a standard airfoil single-wing craft with remarkable lift. It possessed almost no cargo capacity inside the fuselage, its main purpose being to transport the harvester-factory to the spice beds and once there to stay close in order to effect a rapid evacuation should a worm appear. A complex system of winches under the wing made quick lifting possible. Records show that 96.7% of the operations were interrupted by the appearance of a worm.


The harvester was the piece of equipment which changed most dramatically throughout the years of spice mining. The first harvesters were dragline machines brought in by the early Imperial ecologists. The factory was anchored in place with two towers of the harvester established approximately 300 meters from the factory and 100 meters apart from each other. A large dragscoop was attached to a line leading directly to a winch on the factory. To the back of the scoop was attached the haul-back line which was run through a pulley on the first tower, through a pulley on the second tower, then back to a second winch on the factory. Harvesting of the spice was achieved by dragging the scoop to the factory through the sand, filling it as it progressed. The scoop was emptied and "hauled back" by the haul-back line to take another scoop. When one drag location was exhausted, the towers were moved around the factory until a circular area was mined.

This method was very slow and had several negative side effects. The noise of the drag always called a worm, and the towers and drags would be lost when the factory was evacuated. Furthermore, the depth of a drag could not be well controlled, causing many impurities in the ore. The final and most important disadvantage was the frictional heat generated by the drag pulling through the sand, which caused undesirable effects in the spice.

The second-generation harvester was used for the longest period of time. This harvester was usually attached to the front of a factory, which in turn was mounted on a system of arms and tracks, making the harvester-factory mobile. The harvester was an inverted cone and tube leading to the factory. The cone could be adjusted for height above the sand and swung to the right or left 45°. A giant centrifugal vacuum pump created an almost perfect vacuum in the cone above the sand. The vacuum pulled the sand-spice ore into the harvester and to the factory. The advantage of this second harvester over the drag-line type was speed of mining, transport, and evacuation. Profit margins increased exponentially and the safety of miners improved noticeably. The problem of the heat effect on the spice was eliminated and impurities were reduced. However, new problems appeared. The vacuum harvester worked well on spice in its usual sand-like state, but was ineffectual on the occasional spice-pack pockets. In the case of such pockets, miners were forced to use sandcrawlers equipped with harrows to break up the spice-pack. Once again this procedure always called a worm.

The most recently developed harvester to be used was designed for mining deep desert spice after the veins near the Shield Wall had been exhausted. It was an aircraft which rode on an air cushion developed by a large fan underneath. This harvester was circular in shape with two long, retractable, diametrically opposed out riggers with a sand wing attached to each. The craft flew to a previously located spice bed, descended to a height of five meters above the sand,extended the out riggers and lowered the wings, which would "fly" under the sand holding the harvester stable as it worked. Such harvesters could be used on spice-packs also. The fan was accelerated sufficiently to blow the spice, mock-spice, and spice fiber out and up to the vacuum elements around the outside of the craft. The heavier impurities remained on the surface. When full, the craft would return to a permanent stationary factory.


The spice factory was a separator of spice and spice byproducts from impurities and a storage transport for those products. The machine was designed with independently powered sections attached to each other by flextubes. The exterior was a compound of metal, plastic, and blue plasteel in a shape designed to reduce windborne sand damage. Its dimensions were 127 x 41 meters. The shape, color and long, leg-like track units gave the machine the appearance of a large, blue, hard-shelled beetle. The ore first entered a shakerblow room, where the heavier elements were shaken on a conveyor, and the lighter spice fiber was blown off and gathered for processing. The ore was carried to the second section, an enormous, powerful centrifuge. The lighter spice and mock-spice were isolated when the heavier sand impurities were spun off and ejected through a spout in the top of the factory, causing a cloud which could be seen for kilometers. The spice and mock-spice mixture was then carried to a third section and placed in a bath of any one of a number of organic solvents. These dissolved the mockspice, but left the melange in virtually pure form. The solvents were allowed to evaporate and the spice was hyper-packed into transport containers in the tail of the factory. The solvent was distilled and reused, and the residue of mock-spice was gathered and stored to be used as a powerful, ecologically safe pesticide.

Logistics and Organization[]

The mining operations were conducted under the guidance of a Sandmaster. During the harvester-factory period, one "dig" would average two days in length and was usually terminated by the arrival of a worm. A dig started from a Spicing Center. Miners and support crew were assigned to a dig, and the factory, harvester, and crawlers were transported by a wing to the spice sands. During the Atreides' rule, two digs at a time were assigned within wing-distance of each other so that the reliability of evacuation was significantly increased without waste of equipment time. Thus, two wings were available for evacuation at all times at each dig, unless both needed evacuation simultaneously, which had a probability of 0.025.

Upon arriving at a dig site, seismic probes were placed at the comers of the mine. The harvester-factory was brought to operational status and when the ornithopter spotters were positioned, mining was begun. The wings were held at minimum evacuation-time locations. Once a dig was interrupted or completed, the wing transported the equipment and cargo back to the Spice Center for storage and eventual reassignment.

The Sandmaster had complete control over his dig and its products. He was also responsible for loss of life or equipment on a dig. Payment for the dig personnel usually allotted three shares for each miner, one share each for support personnel, one share for the Sandmaster who received a percentage of total production, and one share for the prospector who located the bed.

Spice Prospecting[]

Prospecting was conducted by sandcrawler and on foot, using only paracompass and sinkcharts. For safety reasons, the finds were limited to the area within a drive of the Shield Wall. Spice beds were located by subtle changes in sand texture and color, depressions in sand flats, and telltale odor and color of gases over a bed. When a possible bed was located, a few centimeters of sand were removed and a sample was taken. Early prospectors' assayed the sample by taste. This test, however, was often fatal due to high concentrations of mock-spice. Other assay factors consisted of texture, color (the deeper the blue, the better the spice), and odor. Later prospectors used organic solvents to remove the mock-spice before tasting. When the deep desert sites were developed, prospectors began to use hover crafts for quick transport. Also popular were clappets, the small, four-legged furry animals of Sammel, adept at sniffing out spice beds.

See also[]