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The 2023 International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Sydney this month is bringing together two seemingly distinct industries, mining and space exploration, to collaborate on innovations that will take both sectors to new horizons.  

Arvind Ramana, Director of Space Technology Uplift at the Australian Space Agency and a feature panellist at IMARC, believes innovations in space are directly applicable to the mission of accelerating efforts to decarbonise the economy. 

He highlights the role of space-based technology in detecting and accounting for greenhouse gas emissions, and the importance of space-based sensors in enabling companies and nations to track emissions swiftly and accurately.

"Space acts as a vantage point and an enabler for all critical technologies, imparting value to industries like mining and agriculture by serving as a critical enabler for innovation and productivity," according to Mr Ramana, who is part of a special IMARC panel to explore the impacts of space robotics, advancements in terrestrial robotics, and the provision of robust, resilient, and productive solutions. 

He believes confronting growing concerns about sustainability represents a universal challenge, with both the space and mining industries grappling with the need for more sustainable and responsible practices. 

"Space and sustainability are domains where collective international efforts are best positioned to achieve superior outcomes for humanity. What is needed is for nations to collaborate, share best practices, and establish guidelines for ethical conduct, aligning with the direction the mining sector is taking toward sustainability. Space technology plays a crucial role in the early stages of emissions reduction, laying the groundwork for addressing the challenges of global warming.”

Dr Jonathan Stock, Director of the National Innovation Centre at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), will also be offering IMARC delegates valuable insights into the application of space innovation in reducing our carbon footprint. 

"The technologies developed for space missions inherently lead to improved efficiencies for renewable energy on Earth, as a byproduct of the challenges associated with operating off-world where oxygen is scarce,” he says.

Mr Stock points to the partnership between NASA and USGS, which aims to identify important resources available on Earth and beyond. 

“Many different organisations, both public and private, are working together to enhance the tools and technologies used in subsurface exploration. They are focusing on using artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, advanced computing, and specialised equipment to make resource detection and assessment not only faster but more affordable.” 

Mr Stock notes that the collaborative initiative accelerates our capacity to image the subsurface of planetary bodies, contributing to the creation of critical resource maps and enhancing scientific understanding. 

“The knowledge gained from these endeavours will play a pivotal role in supporting upcoming NASA missions and the emerging space economy. We are inviting the global community to participate in an international effort aimed at advancing sensor technologies, platforms, and enabling technologies. This partnership is a step forward for humanity, and it means that we will have better tools at our disposal for exploring resources, whether on our planet or in space.” 

Jonathan Stock will host an Exploration & Space Information Session on day 1, October 31st, from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM in room E5.7. This session, hosted in collaboration between AROSE and the USGS, explores technologies to image planetary subsurfaces and their implications for resource mapping, scientific research, and NASA missions.

 

Evolving Industries  

In recent years, the mining and resources sector has undergone a profound transformation. Pressing concerns about sustainability, environmental impacts, and operational efficiency have driven an industry-wide evolution. 

With growing scrutiny from investors and the community, the need to address these concerns has never been more pronounced, driving relentless innovation and the adoption of state-of-the-art technologies, and, in keeping with the IMARC theme, collaboration across industries. 

Michelle Keegan, Program Director at AROSE, is enthusiastic about the multifaceted benefits of space technology to mining. She points out that space exploration inherently benefits humanity by creating sovereign capabilities in science, technology, and innovation, consequently fostering economic growth.  

“Commercial space activities have far-reaching effects across various industries, including resources and agriculture, both of which rely on space technology in their daily operations,” she says.

“The adoption of robotics and automation is rapidly growing in the resources sector, with the push to reduce human exposure to risks while enhancing efficiency and accuracy in mining operations. “

Ms Keegan points to Australia’s Lunar Rover Project, which involves designing, building, testing, and operating an Australian-made lunar foundation services rover as part of a technology demonstration in NASA's return to the surface of the Moon. The rover will operate remotely to gather lunar regolith (soil) and transport it to a NASA processing facility to extract oxygen. This is a significant advancement toward establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon, Mars and beyond.  

"The Lunar Rover mission is about taking Australian’s remote operational capability to space. And in return, we see opportunities to learn through design, driven by the parallels to all of the subsystems of a rover back into our own equipment, including power, automation, navigation, and communication,” Ms Keegan says.

“In 2021, companies like IMDEX sponsored our precursor Lunar Rover project to apply the lessons learned to their Blastdog product, a robotic rover used in open-pit mining operations.

“At present, we are collaborating with the mining industry to refine the lunar rover's operational concept and so integrate mining methodologies into space exploration."

 

Coming together to address the key challenges  

Ms Keegan notes that some of the biggest challenges the world faces are how to mine on a smaller footprint, leave zero waste, leave zero emissions, use minimal water and operate more safely.  

She says both space and mining are striving for change for the better and solving for: 

  • operation in a harsh environment  
  • operation in a remote environment  
  • exploration of the sub surface  
  • solving for renewable energy, and  
  • improved extraction 

 

She says the collaboration between space and mining transcends mere technology exchange - it forms a strategy to tackle fundamental challenges.  

"We have numerous opportunities for cross-transfer, extending beyond technology to our overall approach to these challenges." 

 

Space Technologies and Resource Exploration  

Another IMARC panellist, Hemant Chaurasia, Chief Product Officer at Fleet Space Technologies, is also excited by the pivotal role space technology can play in mineral exploration. Chaurasia believes the surging demand for critical minerals necessitates a data-driven approach to exploration. 

"To meet the rapidly growing demand for critical minerals, we need to leverage every available tool to expedite the discovery of new deposits worldwide. This will require a more data-driven and agile approach to mineral exploration that addresses the challenges field teams face in highly remote and inaccessible regions – that's where space technology can help.”

Fleet has developed a solution that combines the latest advances in space and geophysics to accelerate the discovery of critical minerals. Their satellite-enabled technology, ExoSphere, provides a groundbreaking method for generating actionable 3D models of the Earth's subsurface. This innovative approach changes the game for exploration teams, as it revolutionises exploration dynamics and enables faster on-site targeting decisions. 

Dr. Chaurasia is also eager to share how space technology can contribute to sustainability. 

“Space technology is enabling more sustainable surveying methods. The innovative approach offered by ExoSphere reduces the need for traditional, time-consuming, and 

expensive exploration methods. Our solution will allow teams to quickly enhance their understanding of 3D geological structures at a project site, and more importantly, action that insight in their exploration programs in a matter of days instead of weeks or months. Our method will help the mining sector to do more with less drill holes while also lowering their environmental impact." 

 

The Path Ahead  

AROSE’s Michell Keegan hopes the audience will see parallels between sectors as a catalyst for ongoing collaboration to tackle our most significant challenges. 

“Historically, we have functioned as very distinct sectors; to advance both industries in this modern climate, that separation has to become history.

“The opportunity is to lean in further to both contribute to our future and to leverage the advances in space.” 

IMARC Conference & Partnerships Director Sherene Asnasyous says the rigorous demands of space exploration have many parallels with the mining industry's relentless pursuit of innovation, and these commonalities are fostering extraordinary collaboration. 

“The exchange of knowledge and technology at events like IMARC will help drive solutions to some of the most critical global challenges,” she says.

"This year’s event will provide the perfect opportunity for knowledge transfer and new ways to further cement the bond between industries facing similar challenges and opportunities.”

IMARC continues to serve as a global stage for cross-sector collaboration, offering the mining sector valuable insights that will propel the industry to new heights. By harnessing the cutting-edge space technology, the mining sector is poised to step into a future defined by enhanced efficiency, sustainability, and alignment with the broader human pursuit to explore new limits.

 

For those interested in hearing more from these speakers, IMARC will feature a session on Mining and Space: Collaborating on Robotics and Automation Capability. The session will be held on day 3, 2nd November from 1:30pm – 3:30pm.