IMARC: making space for more exploration

As mining for some minerals becomes harder given a dearth of new discoveries or declining reserves across the globe, space exploration is rocketing into prominence as a vantage point and enabler for all critical technologies.

The 2023 International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Sydney, which launches tomorrow (31 October 2023), is bringing together these two seemingly distinct industries to collaborate on innovations that will launch both sectors to new horizons.  

Director of Space Technology Uplift at the Australian Space Agency, Arvind Ramana, who is also a feature panellist at IMARC, believes innovations in space are directly applicable to the mission of accelerating efforts towards decarbonisation.

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.

Ahead of speaking at IMARC on a panel to explore the effects of space robotics, advancements in terrestrial robotics, and the provision of robust, resilient, and productive solutions, Ramana says space offers plenty of opportunities.

“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.”

The Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth consortium (AROSE) is a not-for-profit, industry-led organisation with a vision for Australia to be the trusted leader in Remote Operations science, technology, and service, on Earth and in Space.

AROSE’s Michelle Keegan, who in July 2021 was appointed Program Director, hopes the IMARC audience will see parallels between sectors as a catalyst for ongoing collaboration to tackle significant global and economic 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.” 

This year, Mining.com.au is an official media partner of IMARC, which will showcase 470-plus mining leaders and resource experts throughout 7 concurrent conferences.

Space for more exploration

Another IMARC panellist, Hemant Chaurasia, Chief Product Officer at Fleet Space Technologies, 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.”

As per a Mining.com.au report, Fleet Space has developed a solution that combines the latest advances in space and geophysics to accelerate the discovery of critical minerals.

Space technology is enabling more sustainable surveying methods

The firm’s 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. 

Chaurasia says: “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.” 

IMARC Conference & Partnerships Director Sherene Asnasyous adds that the rigorous demands of space exploration have many parallels with the mining industry’s 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. 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.”

As reported by Mining.com.au in September, with space mining comes a whole new game in terms of scale. For example, the iron content of the asteroid 16 Psyche — which sits in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter and is the primary target of NASA’s Psyche mission set to launch in October — is estimated by planetary scientist and mission leader Lindy Elkins-Tanton to be worth around $10 quintillion. That’s $10,000,000,000,000,000,000 — the iron content of a comparatively modest 220km-wide space rock.

Ramana adds that with such a potential lucrative industry 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.”

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

Speaking ahead of the conference, he says 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.

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

He 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.” 

Ready to launch  

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. 

AROSE’s Keegan adds she 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. 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.”

“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

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.  

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

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

The International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) is where global mining leaders collaborate on trends in mining, investment, and innovation toward a sustainable future. As Australia’s largest mining event, it brings together over 8,500 decision-makers, mining leaders, policymakers, investors, commodity buyers, technical experts, innovators, and educators from more than 120 countries for three days of learning, deal-making, and unparalleled networking.

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

IMARC is developed in collaboration with its founding partners, the Victorian State Government, Austmine, the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), and Mines and Money, and held with the support of Mining.com.au as an official media partner.

Write to Adam Orlando at Mining.com.au

Images: Fleet Space Technologies
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Written By Adam Orlando
Mining.com.au Editor-in-Chief Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Orlando has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.