Mining, the most ‘terrestrial’ sector, is changing due to Space

by JMill. March 15, 2024 | Space for Earthlings 🌏🛰️


The miner’s credo is “If you can’t grow it, you have to mine it.” The transition towards clean energy has led to a significant rise in demand for critical minerals. As part of a burgeoning Earth observation strategy, SAR is beginning to be utilized by certain mining companies to find particular minerals, such as lithium.

Geospatial data, especially from multispectral, hyperspectral, and SAR sensors for Earth observation, has a significant role to play in the mining technology stack, across applications – from exploration to risk management. The Critical Minerals Market Review report from the International Energy Agency states, “From 2017 to 2022, demand for lithium tripled while nickel and cobalt demand increased by 40 and 70% respectively.” The mining sector will rely on staggering amounts of EO data if the Space industry is able to offer reliable, scalable, and commercially viable product-services. 

    Mining is not just a terrestrial activity. Minerals considered ‘rare-earth’ may be ‘common-space’. That is, elements that are difficult to find on Earth or with depleting reserves – many of which form the basis for twenty-first century civilization such as computers and mechanized transportation – have high environmental costs and energy tolls for extraction, but which may become more readily acquired off-planet. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Hayabusa and Hayabusa 2 spacecrafts successfully returned to Earth asteroid samples in 2020 and 2022, helping the Space industry to learn about the challenges and opportunities of safely recovering materials not resident on Earth. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx returned an asteroid sample in 2023. Testbed facilities such as those operated by Swamp Works at NASA and the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines provide simulated regolith-strewn physical environments for companies such as Lunar Outpost to refine their mineral exploration and excavation rovers before heading to their harsh primetime site targets on the Moon and Mars.


    The Outpost Digger System. Image Credit: Agata Bogucka/Colorado School of Mines

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