“It’s amazing to work with people who have the same dream. We are leaping into a new area and industry. I am excited to be in Luxembourg, the place where this is happening,” says Postdoc Carlos Espejel, a Mechanical & Mining Engineer who started his project with ispace in September 2018, bringing 10 years of valuable expertise in mine planning with him.
Dr Carlos Daniel Espejel relocated from Australia to Luxembourg to work with ispace Europe on a collaborative project with the University in New South Wales in the framework of an FNR Industrial Fellowship
Space mining is a hot topic – by many seen as the next new frontier, and Carlos explains the research and development taking place to make it a reality can also benefit a range of other space projects, such as space tourism and extending the life of rockets and satellites:
“The life span of a satellite is around 15 years and they usually ‘die’ because they run out of fuel. If we had the capacity to refuel satellites, the lifespan is potentially endless. We will also need fuel depots in space, especially if we want to keep travelling beyond Mars.
First step: Mapping the space resources
“After we demonstrate our lunar lander and rover technologies and before we move to utilizing lunar resources, there first needs to be a phase of exploration in the mining sense, that is the precise mapping of resources. This is a key area to which Carlos is contributing”, explains Julien Lamamy, who is Carlos’ supervisor at ispace Europe.
“The research of Philippe Ludivig on rover navigation is also contributing to this by building map of the moon surface and by localising the rover and resources on these maps. One then needs to process this new exploration data and evaluate the grade of the resources and the effort it takes to extract and utilise them – this another area where Carlos’ research is a major contribution” Julien adds.
STEP TWO: A PLAN FOR HOW TO MANAGE MINERAL RESOURCES IN SPACE
Once a code has been developed, the second part is coming up with a mine planning methodology for space, essentially a plan for how to manage the mines. Carlos elaborates:
"In the end, it’s about coming up with a methodology to estimate space ore reserves. It’s not just about estimating their value - it’s about estimating the optimum extraction sequence of that deposit for the life of the mine. Life of the mine refers to how long it takes to mine a deposit – some will take 5 years to mine, some you could mine for 100. We have deposits on earth that have been mined for more than 100 years.
“When you calculate the value of space deposits – ore reserves - you have to take into account the geological models, mining, geotechnical, metallurgical, financial, engineering, among other parameters.
“I would like to create a portfolio which includes each deposit, the reserves amount, equipment needed, and the risk associated with extracting it.”
Carlos, who relocated from Australia to Luxembourg for this project, is based at ispace Europe in Luxembourg most of the time, but will also be travelling to the collaborating research institution in Australia, the University of New South Wales.
It may come as a surprise, but Australia - the world's biggest exporter of coal - is home to many headquarters of the biggest mining companies in the world, and is also where the JORC was created.
A bridge between the space community and terrestrial mining
Carlos emphasises that its thanks to financial support that schemes such as the FNR’s Industrial Fellowships that he has been able to join ispace – and that it has not only helped him fulfil his dream of working on the space mining endeavour, but also benefits other players:
“It was a blessing. It was essential in helping my dream come true. I would say this scheme helps everyone: ispace is looking for resources to make its vision happen - and so in meeting their goals - and Luxembourg to bring specialists from other countries, companies from other nations, and so to become a space mining hub. This FNR initiative is beneficial for everyone.”
“This one project is allowing us to expand our international collaborations to create a bridge between the space community and terrestrial mining” Julien Lamamy adds.
ABOUT CARLOS DANIEL ESPEJEL
Before moving to Luxembourg for his project, Dr Carlos Daniel Espejel spent 13 years in Australia, where he studied Mechanical Engineering, followed by an MA in Mining Engineering and a PhD in Mining Engineering (focus on strategic mine planning). Carlos worked full-time during all of his studies and also worked for Glencore Xstrata, Anglo American and BHP, the biggest mining companies in the world, where he did the mine planning for their biggest operations in Australia and Chile.