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In an ideal world the terrestrial mining and commercial space sectors are working arm in arm on their mutual problems (or challenges). Michelle Keegan thinks that connection is getting closer.

She hopes a meeting of representatives of the two industries alongside Australia’s largest mining event, IMARC, in October can forge another key link in the chain.

Keegan, director resources & space at the four-year-old Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth (AROSE) consortium, recently led the first large-scale Australian mining and METS mission to the NASA Ames Research Park at Moffett Field in California. That continued a series of formal, commercially leaning, meetings between groups representing the Australian mining and US-centric space sectors over the past few years.

Why is Australia figuring prominently in NASA’s calculations?

“We have more automated mining trucks than anyone else in the world,” Keegan says.

“Australia is the early adopter and leader in mining automation.

“The Australian METS [mining equipment, technology and services] sector has also created over 60% of the world’s mining software in use today [which is] a critical enabler of operations and ongoing innovation.

“NASA is keen to collaborate on terrestrial applications of autonomy and the design of new mission concepts for exploration. There is strong interest in our approaches to exploration generally and why relevant technology has developed the way it has.”

Australia is aiming to be on board when NASA returns to the Moon via the Artemis mission, with a remote-operated lunar rover developed with input from the mining, energy and space sectors at the preliminary design review stage. Fast-growing Adelaide company, Fleet Space Technologies, embodies the nascent skyhook between the industries with its terrestrial mineral surveying activities helping propel it to the Moon and maybe beyond.

Both sides walked away from the NASA Ames huddle with a deeper appreciation of what each has to offer.

“These kinds of forums can help create the opportunities that shake things up into the future,” Keegan says.

“We are defining new concepts of operation that could be what redefines our future.

“The space industry is already disrupting what we do in mining via comms and satellite imagery, autonomy, renewable power and more. Taking this to the next level to truly redefine our mines is the path we’re on now.”

The Australian contingent at the Moffett Field workshop gained insights into technologies helping NASA and its various contractors design for payload-directed data collection missions with zero footprint. They also learned about the technology underpinning the US space agency’s circa-US$500 million VIPER lunar mission, and the high-level science and engineering guiding current and future mission concepts.

“This is no different to where we want to get to with exploration [science teams] and engineering [study teams] to define resources faster and bring that evolving knowledge into mine studies,” Keegan says.

“This should help pave a path for faster and smarter exploration and mining projects.

“There’s no doubt that project and exploration drilling approvals are getting harder and so there is increasing urgency around development of less invasive ways to explore.”

“Spin-out” testing of selected mining and space technologies is seen as crucial to elevating the ongoing information exchange to the next level. This will need vision, support and funding.

Keegan says getting more senior – and pragmatic – mining people in a room with their space peers can help speed momentum.

IMARC, running from October 29-31 in Sydney, is the largest annual gathering of mining, METS, government and academic leaders in the southern hemisphere.

“The right calibre of mining and METS leader is definitely there,” Keegan says.

She is pulling together an information-packed program for October 30 featuring space industry, mining business and technical, and METS robotics, automation and software chiefs.

“IMARC is about lifting up the level of discussion and seeking investment to take the mining-space overlap forward,” Keegan says.

“I hope people reading this are inspired to come to IMARC to reshape a sustainable future with us.”

Space force: Terrestrial miners from Down Under get together with NASA scientists and engineers at NASA Ames in California, USA
Space force


Australia is aiming to put a lunar rover on the Moon
Australia is aiming to put a lunar rover on the Moon