A Queensland Parliamentary committee is investigating how the state can make the most of Australia's new space agency.
A Queensland Parliamentary committee is investigating how the state can make the most of Australia's new space agency. Dmitri Lovetsky

From Alpha to Alpha Centauri: mining's future is in space

FORGET the Galilee Basin, the future of Queensland mining could be among the stars.

A University of Queensland expert has called for the state's world-leading knowledge of mining and mineral exploration to lead the nation's way into space.

Far from science fiction, space mining has the potential to be a multi-trillion dollar industry.

UQ mining research fellow Rhonda O'Sullivan has told a Queensland Parliamentary inquiry local expertise in mining could offset a lack of funding.

The inquiry is investigating how the Queensland can take advantage of the recently-established Australian Space Agency.

But ASA's $41 million budget is tiny on the world stage. NASA has a $18.4 billion budget and the European Space Agency has a $6.5 billion budget. China, Russia, India and Japan's space agencies also significantly outspend the ASA.

 

Nickel, iron and water are among the resources expected to be mined from asteroids.
Nickel, iron and water are among the resources expected to be mined from asteroids. thinkstock

Ms O'Sullivan said to compete, Australia must make the most of existing advantages.

"We have a very, very small percentage of the international budget. We need to try and play to our strengths where we can," she said.

"Australia and Queensland are known internationally for our expertise in mining."

Ms O'Sullivan said while asteroid mining was "decades away", using the Moon's resources was much closer.

NASA and the European Space Agency have plans to establish a Moon base in the 2020s.

Ms O'Sullivan said in the long-term asteroids would be mined for minerals such as nickel, iron and water.

 

Pictures of the asteroid Ryugu taken by the spacecraft Hyabusa2
Pictures of the asteroid Ryugu taken by the spacecraft Hyabusa2 JAXA

This year the Hayabusa2 spacecraft sent up by JAXA - the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency - deployed two robots onto the surface of the asteroid Ryugu.

American asteroid mining company Planetary Resources claims that asteroid alone has an estimated $116 billion of resources - including nickel, iron, cobalt and water - and a potential $42 billion profit. Other asteroids are estimated to have more than $100 trillion of resources.

Queensland Resource Council CEO Ian Macfarlane said the state's mining industry was in a unique position to take advantage of the new space agency.

"Two of the key materials used to build a spacecraft - aluminium and titanium - can be sourced from Queensland with bauxite in the Far North refined into aluminium at Gladstone and mineral sands on islands such as North Stradbroke are needed for titanium," he said.

Mr Macfarlane said North Stradbroke-mined titanium was used to build Apollo 11 that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon.

"Roles in the space industry require a background in science, engineering and maths which are not that dissimilar to the roles required in today's resources workforce," he said.

"Resource companies already need specialists in computing systems, electronics, software and niche technical field roles."

Pictures of the asteroid Ryugu taken by the spacecraft Hyabusa2
Pictures of the asteroid Ryugu taken by the spacecraft Hyabusa2 JAXA

While asteroid mining will be done by robots, Ms O'Sullivan said the industry will create highly skilled jobs in asset management and operations.

The legalities around space mining remain murky, but in the past two years the USA and Luxembourg have passed legislation encouraging private space exploration and exploitation of space resources. Ms O'Sullivan said Australia should follow suit. -NewsRegional


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