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December 21, 2020
Australia launches lunar exploration mission

A collection of South Australian space, remote operation and mining companies are part of a national mission announced today to send nanosatellites and exploration sensors to the Moon in 2023 in a bid to find water and other resources.

An initiative of South Australian nanosatellite company Fleet Space Technologies, the Australian lunar exploration mission will search for “abundant, accessible water and resources” using adapted mining and space technologies.

Named Seven Sisters, the mission aims to cement Australia as a leader in space exploration within the next decade and support NASA’s Artemis Program.

Artemis will try and send the first woman and another man to the Moon by 2024.

Fleet Space CEO Flavia Tata Nardini said Seven Sisters would use mining techniques to assist NASA in identifying viable water and other mineral deposits on the Moon through an array of sensors on the lunar surface by capturing images of water and mineralisation below.

She said this would equip Artemis with the data required to make “prudent decisions ahead of robotic and human exploration”.

Nardini said Fleet was already proving its Moon capabilities through its constellation of Centauri nanosatellites, which power a global network of connected sensors and devices.

The space startup launched its first small satellites in 2018 on board SpaceX, Rocket Lab and ISRO and has a tracking station an hour outside of Adelaide, South Australia.

South Australia is home to the Australian Space Agency and the South Australian space ecosystem has grown in recent years, with collaborations with NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the presence of numerous successful startups such as MyriotaLux Aerobot, and Southern Launch.

Nardini said Seven Sisters would be further aided by its first generation of prototype probes. Fleet expects to begin testing the probes in the coming months.

“It is critical that Australia supports NASA’s Artemis program with high-maturity systems,” Nardini said.

“Our satellites are already in space and our consortium members have proven capabilities in the most demanding environments on Earth.”

Professor Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER), said that it made sense for Australia’s young space industry to concentrate on an area of Australian strength and partner with the nation’s large resource companies.

“Australia is a world leader in mining engineering research and automation,” Professor Dempster said.

“The Seven Sisters mission offers a real opportunity to leverage strong Australian technology to promote human endeavours on the Moon.”

The technology developed through the mission will also be utilised for terrestrial exploration, with some new techniques are already being trialled in South Australia as part of the Accelerated Discovery Initiative.

Gavin Gillett of the Pioneer Lab at Rio Tinto, who also acts as an advisor to the mission team, said the mining industry already partners with the space industry to stream oceans of data through satellites.

“Australia has a unique combination of geography, environment and demographics that make pioneering automation and robotics a necessary part of our DNA,” Gillett said.

Seven Sisters is a collaboration between the Australian Remote Operations for Space and Earth consortium, Fleet Space Technologies, mining company Oz Minerals, the University of Adelaide, UNSW, nanosatellite company Tyvak, geo-data specialist Fugro, and energy and resources community Unearthed.

The Seven Sisters Mission was founded in 2019 and is expected to take four years.

Fleet is scheduled to launch its next generation of nanosatellites in 2021.

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