Off-earth Mining: The research questions

22nd July 2014
Old Main Building, Room 51
UNSW Kensington Campus

The aim of this event is to identify researchers in cross-disciplinary fields who might be interested in engaging in the very broad issues relating to off-earth mining. In February 2013, the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW hosted the highly successful Off-Earth Mining Forum. A number of initiatives have resulted, including an application for an ARC Centre of Excellence in Interplanetary Engineering.

Already in 2014:

  • Serkan Saydam of the School of Mining Engineering visited NASA's JPL in California and Kennedy Space Centre in Florida,
  • The CEO of Deep Space Industries, David Gump, presented on the UNSW campus,
  • Planetary Resources approached UNSW to discuss collaboration.

In other words, the only two asteroid mining companies, and the two key NASA centres are in discussion with UNSW as to how to advance this initiative.

Off-earth mining is an extremely wide emerging research area, and we would like to start establishing niches for UNSW in areas where we have i) track record and ii) ongoing interest. The purpose of this workshop is to break down some of the "big" research questions into more specific questions of interest to UNSW researchers. This means reaching out to academics in Engineering, Science, Business and Law. Some example "big" questions are:

  1. Mission-level questions
    • Which minerals/ elements should be extracted from the moon/ Mars/ asteroids? (the role of microgravity geology?)
    • Which asteroid(s) should be mined?
    • What is the design of the mission to the moon/ Mars/ asteroid?
    • How should such an operation be managed? Risks?

  2. Mining systems process questions
    • What technologies are needed for prospecting/ exploring/ mapping/ mining/ processing/materials handling/manufacturing? (considering the extreme conditions: vacuum, microgravity, temperature gradients, radiation, lack of water…)
    • Can existing terrestrial technologies be used? (Vice versa: will off-earth technologies be of benefit on earth?)
    • How can the right level of robotics autonomy be achieved?
    • Can bio-mining be used in space?

  3. Applications/ Markets questions
    • How can fuel be mined from asteroids?
    • How can solar panels be produced from mined asteroid materials?

  4. Business questions
    • How strong is the business case for off-earth mining operations?
    • Where will the in-space markets come from and are they realistic (tourism, satellite refuelling, exploration)?

  5. Legal/Societal questions
    • Why do we need to consider off-earth mining? (What problem is it solving?)
    • Can the space law obstacles be overcome?
    • Are there environmental issues to be overcome?

If any of these questions are of interest to you or relevant to your fields of research, please get in touch with us.