Miners’ space-race collaboration to boost talent pool, supplier diversity

Several Australian mining companies have been involved in the formation of a new consortium launched Feb. 17 in Perth that could see the industry’s remote and robotic technologies used in exploring Mars and mining water from the moon.

Western Australia’s government launched Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth, or AROSE, which will be based in Perth, to ensure the state has a leading role in the Australian Space Agency’s partnership, launched in September 2019, with NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration initiative.

Mining companies comprised about 20% of the 42 resources, defense, science and government organizations that participated in workshops around Australia throughout 2019 during AROSE’s planning period.

AROSE, whose founding partners include Western Australian oil and gas major Woodside Petroleum Ltd., could spark an additional A$196 million gross state product on an annual basis and support 1,540 new jobs within the next five years, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers economic modeling.

A 2019 report from AlphaBeta Advisors also suggested that adopting digital and automation technologies in the mining, oil and gas sectors has the potential to add A$74 billion to Australia’s economy and create 80,000 new jobs by 2030.

AROSE Chair Russell Potapinski told S&P Global Market Intelligence that as an automation and digital technology leader, the mining sector will play a key role in the new entity, both in submitting problems on which the multisector members can work and in contributing technology solutions that can be deployed elsewhere, such as the aerospace, agriculture and defense sectors.

Western Australian Science, Innovation and ICT Minister Dave Kelly said in a Feb. 17 statement that the state’s resource sector’s autonomous and remote operations expertise will help develop technology and services for future space exploration, such as mining for water on the moon.

Kelly said AROSE would help Western Australia partake in the “global space economy,” which was valued at US$350 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to US$1.1 trillion by 2040.

Bye, who founded Perth-based technology company Imvelo Pty. Ltd. six months ago with BHP’s former autonomous operations program director, Sharna Glover, said in an interview that sensor, automation, control system and artificial intelligence/machine learning are common themes running through the resources sector’s future technology needs.BHP Group’s former technology vice president, Alan Bye, was involved in the idea behind AROSE’s genesis — that industry needs more talent to be able to work on technology platforms so jobs can be created locally rather than importing or outsourcing them to international companies.