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As the space sector grows, it is expected that the global space economy will become a trillion-dollar industry within the next two decades. The existing capabilities within the space industry overlap with a multitude of other industries, including mining.
Space technologies present significant opportunities to the mining industry across both Earth Mining and Space Mining.
Earth Mining - Sustainable and enhanced mining practices on Earth
Some of the most widespread challenges affecting the mining industry can be mitigated through the use of space technology such as satellite imagery. Satellite aggregator platforms and ground station solutions such as AWS Ground Station can enable frequent analysis of remote mining locations with minimal costs.
Open pit mining
By using remote sensing satellite imagery, it is possible to locate, identify and analyse open mining pit conditions, including climate and environmental changes. Cases of illegal mining can also be tracked, providing information to investors and management companies to assess the extent of losses and prevent further illegal mining.
Satellite imagery allows mining companies to easily assess the quality of insured assets and infrastructure in remote mining locations. Advanced analytics processes, such as neural-based object analysis, can assess and evaluate the status of individual facilities.
Mining assets such as autonomous drillers
With the help of satellite imagery and advanced imaging analytics, it is possible to analyse and monitor remote areas, vegetation, and water bodies, enabling real-time planning to prevent emergencies and natural disasters.
Space Mining – Mining of Space resources
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on whether asteroids could be the new equities. A single asteroid the size of a football field could contain $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum and other precious rare Earth minerals.
Similarly, recent studies and space imagery have shown the existence of Lunar Water on the moon’s poles, which offers an innovative answer to the constant issue of space fuel: Moon water could serve as the new fuel in space.
Water is the new fuel
Getting anything into space is expensive. If a satellite is to break free of Earth’s gravity, it requires a lot of propellant to fuel the ride to orbit. In fact, most of the weight of a rocket at launch is just the propellant/fuel needed to get an object into space. But what if instead of taking all the propellant needed from Earth, the tank is refilled with propellant that is already in space?
By following a chemical process called electrolysis, water can be broken down into oxygen and hydrogen, generating energy that can be stored and used to propel an object through space.
“Companies like Rio Tinto are developing autonomous drilling and that’s the sort of thing you will need to do on Mars and on the moon. While we’re drilling for iron ore in the Pilbara, on the moon they might be looking for basic resources to survive like soils, water and oxygen.”
– Megan Clark, head of the Australian Space Agency and non-executive director at Rio Tinto
Humans and travel: Can we go further, faster with less impact?
In summary, the Australian mining industry has tremendous potential to benefit from the new space frontier.
Whether it is mining in space by leveraging remote mining technologies such as autonomous drillers, so often used in remote Australian locations; or enhancing sustainable mining practices on Earth, Australia is set to be key player in the space mining revolution.
Dr. Geraldine is a PhD qualified research scientist and engineer working as a specialist senior manager in Deloitte Space. Geraldine’s scientific career was focused on the research, manufacturing and testing of advanced manufacturing technologies in the nanoscale with applications spanning a range of industries, including aerospace, biotechnology, energy and resources. Geraldine is currently helping drive Deloitte's national space-industry innovation agenda and engagements. Her expertise includes business, technology, scientific and engineering advisory for the space sector and its value chain, from manufacturing of critical space subsystems to operations and downstream applications.