The Asia Miner

APR-JUN 2019

The ASIA Miner - Reporting Important Issues to Mining Companies in the Asia Pacific Region

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the asia miner • volume 16 • issue 2 7 LEADING DEVELOPMENTS When you think about water or mining or rocket fuel, the three do not sit together naturally in a sentence. Yet, a team of engineers at an Australian university has an ambiঞous plan to prove the commercial viability of mining water from the moon to produce rocket fuel. In an announcement made at the SIAA Space Industry Forum discussing Australia's role in the Moon Treaty at the University of NSW (UNSW), the group outlined steps to put together a mulঞ-university, agency and industry project team to invesঞgate the possibiliঞes of mining on the moon. They also intend to address how that would work under the United Naঞons' Moon Treaty. Professor Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research at UNSW, believes that Australia is uniquely placed to carve itself a niche in the global space industry by exploiঞng its posiঞon of strength in mining experঞse. "Australia has a natural advantage for off-Earth mining – we have some of the very best mining research, technology and automaঞon tools in the world, and the largest mining companies," he said. "While overseas teams have been looking at solving some of the problems behind space mining, our project wants to examine how we could actually get this done, firstly from a pracঞcal engineering point of view, but also closing a viable business case." The global space industry is expected to grow to AU$1 trillion over the next 20 years and Professor Dempster says Australia needs to engage with the space agenda now to secure its ability to compete in this market in the future. "What we need to do is reduce the perceived risk to potenঞal investors, including large mining companies, in a space mining venture," he said. The major deterrent for industry involvement is a lack of understanding of the economics associated with this type of project and the perceived investment risk profile of mining in space. Professor Dempster, who is working with UNSW mining expert Professor Serkan Saydam, has a goal of reducing the perceived risk of off-Earth mining and offering credible evidence that mining water from the moon can be commercially viable. The hope is to be able to show that it is possible to create the machinery, mining methods, energy resources and communicaঞons required to do it. To that end, they will only consider those opঞons that are most likely to produce posiঞve investment returns. The best-known commercial applicaঞon of extracঞng lunar water is in making rocket fuel. The components of water are hydrogen and oxygen and these can be used to power rockets. Making rocket fuel out of the water on the moon could significantly cut down on the cost of carrying out space missions. Now, rockets leaving Earth must carry all the fuel they need, which comes at an enormous cost. If rockets could potenঞally refuel once in space, they could reach distant locaঞons for a lot less money. Speaking about the project, UNSW Dean of Engineering Mark Hoffman said that Australia needs to invest in disrupঞve, innovaঞve technologies to tackle some of our planet's big challenges and to create new and exciঞng opportuniঞes for economic growth. "Projects such as this one will help deepen Australia's experঞse in off-Earth mining and facilitate the growth of the space industry in Australia," said Mr Hoffman. Professor Dempster said that given sufficient funding, he and his team may be just five to 10 years away from piloঞng a water mining "proof of concept" operaঞon on the moon. "Once we prove that the technology exists and major risks can be miঞgated, I expect that mining companies will see the commercial potenঞal for this sort of venture and put some dollars towards making it a reality," he said. Water, mining and the moon Australian engineers aim for the moon

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