Space-borne mineral exploration is here
Metal Tech News - August 12, 2022
Last updated 8/12/2022 at 3:53pm
As many space exploration companies begin to investigate the vast mineral potential of asteroids, moons, and planets within our solar system, Fleet Space Technologies is leveraging the vantage of space to explore Earth for the $13 trillion worth of minerals and metals that are estimated to be needed over the next two decades to build the clean energy future.
To accomplish this, Fleet's ExoSphere system utilizes a combination of lightweight earthbound geophones, edge computing, and a constellation of low-earth-orbit nanosatellites to discover critical resources up to 15 times faster than traditional methods.
"We created ExoSphere to provide a sustainable, faster and more economically viable alternative to current exploration practices," said Matt Pearson, a co-founder of Fleet Space Technologies. "This work is vital to enabling the dramatic increase in critical mineral discoveries required to support the global transition to clean-air mobility and more sustainable industrial practices."
Introduced to the world earlier this year, ExoSphere got its first trial run at Core Lithium's Finniss project in Australia's Northern Territory, which is slated to begin delivering the lithium needed for electric vehicle batteries by the end of this year.
Core Lithium called the ExoSphere trial an "outstanding success" – saying the technology accurately identified known pegmatite bodies and discovered previously unknown areas prospective for this lithium-rich igneous rock at Finniss.
"Our mission to discover the high grade lithium required to support the world's rapid transition to electric vehicles (EVs) has been enhanced by the results generated through ExoSphere," said Core Lithium Exploration Manager Andy Bennett. "The success of this trial shows the potential of the technology to deliver our next generation of exploration targets and we are excited by the prospect of doing further work with Exosphere."
The Space Age evolution of airborne geophysics that has been helping unearth hidden mineral deposits for decades, ExoSphere uses ambient noise tomography (ANT) to map Earth's subsurface – a useful tool for finding deposits of cobalt, copper, nickel, lithium, and other critical metals that are buried from view.
As Fleet satellites circle above, earthbound crews lay out a grid of Geodes, hand-transportable seismic sensors equipped with a satellite transmitter and sophisticated processing unit.
Once sufficient ANT data is gathered, the wireless and battery-powered Geodes partially process the raw information on-site, which significantly reduces the volume of data that must be transmitted. This practice, known as edge processing, significantly increases the speed of connectivity between internet of things devices and allows more information to be sent while drawing significantly less power.
Once this initial processing is complete, the streamlined data is securely transmitted to Fleet's low-Earth-orbit satellite network. These satellites, in turn, automatically relay the information to ground stations, dramatically reducing the time required to process data.
The data from each Geode is rapidly processed and aimed to deliver a full 3D visualization of the subsurface to depths of 1.2 miles (two kilometers).
In short, there is no need to wait for the geophysics devices to be collected, shipped, and unpacked before the data can be collected.
As a result, Fleet says clear, rich images of the subsurface of an area being surveyed with ExoSphere can be generated in as little as four days, which is up to 15 times faster than it takes a traditional ANT system to return conclusive results.
Using a Fleet-developed system, these visualizations are accessible to view and export anywhere on Earth in real-time.
For mineral exploration companies, this means that intriguing targets can be tested much quicker. Also, if interesting anomalies trend to the edges of the survey area, crews could quickly lay out another Geode grid to probe for wider targets with ExoSphere.
Fleet says the speed of this imaging now means that thousands of square kilometers can be surveyed in a fraction of the time of traditional methods.
"By harnessing the power of Fleet's ExoSphere technology, we are able to scan the earth in greater depth and detail than ever before," said Pearson. "This cleaner, faster and more flexible approach to exploration answers the urgent global requirement to find more than $13 trillion in critical earth transition minerals."
An expanding Fleet
Since introducing the Exosphere earlier this year, Fleet says it has been approached by world-leading exploration companies wanting to use this space-borne geophysics technology.
"We are proud to work with the most progressive explorers in the world realising the transformative potential of this technology," Pearson said.
This interest is only expected to grow with the survey at Core Lithium's Finniss Mine project successfully identifying potentially lithium-enriched pegmatites to a depth of 500 meters.
The subscription proposal between Fleet Space and Core Lithium will likely be the blueprint for future deployment of this cutting-edge mineral exploration technology. This subscription included the rental of the Geodes, planning support, deployment support, and the real-time processing and delivery of any 3D shear velocity models.
"We are proud to enable this critical step in mining to provide better access to the resources we need to make a better future for humanity," the Fleet Space Technologies co-founder added.
Fleet, however, is more than a satellite-borne geophysics company. Customers around the world and across a spectrum of sectors harness the power of the connectivity and innovative technologies offered by the leading Australian space company.
Fleet says it is expanding its satellite constellation to provide unlimited data and global reach to realize the potential of millions of IoT devices on Earth and envisions the world's leading space agencies and innovative companies to expand its network to the Moon and Mars.