Bringing space technology back to earth for Australian mining industry

Scientists involved in CSIRO's Minerals Down Under Flagship are transferring technologies developed for space exploration and mining on the Moon and Mars, into new applications for the Australian mining industry.

Scientists involved in CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under Flagship are transferring technologies developed for space exploration and mining on the Moon and Mars, into new applications for the Australian mining industry.

The link between space exploration and mining has a long history, dating back to NASA’s original Apollo missions.

For instance, technologies used in space navigation have been successfully transferred to provide solutions for mining navigation.

A good example is CSIRO’s longwall shearer automation which was developed from early space industry technologies and is now being used in underground coal mines around the world.

The Space Technology Transfer initiative is being undertaken by scientists from the CSIRO Earth Science and Resource Engineering (CESRE) Automation Group, who recently provided opportunities for some of Queensland’s best students to be involved.

Justin Tang, an engineering mechatronics student from the University of Queensland, is one of four outstanding students who joined the Automation Group’s 2009-10 vacation experience program at the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies (QCAT) in Brisbane.

Tang focussed on understanding how space-related technologies can be transferred to benefit mining automation including the development of a radio astronomy station using a NASA-designed receiver to measure decametric radio waves from Jupiter.

Building the station involved the development of hardware, software, data processing and communication components that are also highly applicable technologies for advanced mining automation systems.

“My work on the project, which also required complex system analysis and processing, was challenging but very rewarding,” Tang said.

The Space Technology Transfer project continues to gain momentum and has attracted support from key agencies around the world, including NASA.

The next stage for the Mining Automation Group will focus on development of a remotely controlled In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) demonstrator station.

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