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CSIRO in the Moon

CSIRO and NASA are collaborating to develop exploration technologies currently used by the Australian minerals industry, for use on the Moon and Mars.

CSIRO Exploration and Mining scientist, Dr Brent McInnes – who recently worked at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre – says there is huge potential for US-Australian collaboration in lunar and planetary exploration technology.

“My work with NASA involved investigating whether a CSIRO instrument for mineral dating, called the Alphachron, could be adapted for measuring the ages of minerals on Mars,” he says.

CSIRO currently uses this technology to determine the age of iron oxide minerals formed during weathering of Australian ore deposits.

“Using the Alphachron to date minerals on Mars can tell us when liquid water may have been present, and by inference, when life may have been sustainable near the surface of the planet,” Dr McInnes says.

Other exploration synergies include the application of instruments developed for the 2009 NASA Mars Science Laboratory mission to mineral exploration and environmental monitoring in Australia.

“My visit to NASA and affiliated US institutions, like the Los Alamos National Laboratory, involved developing technology transfer projects where space applications could be adapted for use in Australia’s mining industry,” Dr McInnes says.

“For example, a laser spectroscopy instrument (ChemCam) developed for the 2009 NASA Mars Science Laboratory mission can remotely determine the geochemistry of rocks and minerals. We are currently discussing trials of this technology at mine sites in Australia.

“There is currently no method available to the industry for analysing the chemistry of rocks remotely. This technology will provide real-time geochemical data in a safer way, from sites that are isolated or hazardous,” he says.

Dr McInnes’ visit highlighted the value that research institutions like CSIRO and NASA can gain from each other by forming mutually beneficial partnerships.

NASA has invited Australia, along with 12 other space-faring nations, to join it in returning to the Moon in 2020, and establishing a lunar outpost by 2025.

The Australian Government has established a Senate Economics Committee Inquiry to investigate the current state of Australia’s space science and industry sector.

According to Senator Alan Eggleston, the Deputy Chair of the Economics Committee, this is an important time for Australia to consider its future involvement in space exploration.

“This is a great opportunity for Australia to assess its current capabilities and future involvement in space,” Senator Eggleston says “The Committee looks forward to hearing the views of Australians on this matter of national importance.”

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