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Space automation technology proves useful for mining

Scientists involved in CSIRO’s Minerals Down Under Flagship are transferring automation and navigation 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, says CSIRO.

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

According to CSIRO, the organisation’s longwall shearer automation 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 Queensland students to get involved.

An engineering mechatronics student from the University of Queensland, Justin Tang, is one of four 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 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, CSIRO claims.

The next stage for the Mining Automation Group will focus on development of a remotely controlled in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) demonstrator station, the organisation says.

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