ASX-listed metals explorer Orion Minerals has awarded a six-month trial mining contract to P2 Mining, a subsidiary of South African mining contractor Newrak Mining Group, at its Prieska copper-zinc mine in Northern Cape, South Africa.

As part of the contract, P2 Mining will undertake an early works trial underground mining programme at the mine.

The trial mining will target the near surface +105 Level Crown Pillar with the help of conventional and alternative underground mining methods.

In July, the company updated the mineral reserve estimate within the +105 Level Crown Pillar to 2.3 million tonnes (mt) at 1.7% copper and 1.6% zinc.

It will also include the development of a 120m footwall ramp before accessing supergene ore of the +105 block with ore development along strike for 150m of the primary access.

Additionally, the contract will cover the opening of the 143 Level stope drawpoints for selective loading and hauling to the surface of broken ore remaining in the stopes, to conduct bulk sampling and metallurgical trails on the material.

If it is successful, it will continue to stockpile on the surface to process in the future, once the concentrator plant is built.

Orion managing director and CEO Errol Smart said: “This is a tremendously exciting period for Orion as we move to active trial mining at Prieska and start our transition from developer to operating mining company.

“We have spent the past two months completing essential preparations such as installing underground refuge chambers, upgrading the hoisting capacity of the emergency escape way to the surface, and sourcing and installing key ventilation equipment.”

The Prieska copper-zinc mine is considered to be the centrepiece of Orion’s asset portfolio. The mine is located 270km from Kimberley, Northern Cape.

It is a volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) base metal deposit with historical production of more than 430,000t of copper and 1mt of zinc from 46.8mt of sulphide ore.