Space companies are big users of lithium, semiconductors and battery minerals, but are, in turn, enhancing the search for more critical minerals prospects.
Fleet Space Technology, which has investors including Artesian Venture Partners, Blackbird Ventures and Grok Ventures – the entity run by tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes – is one of the companies at the forefront, with technology able to speed up the search for lithium deposits.
Fleet Space has about 30 companies either using or preparing to use its technology, made up of a nano-satellite system in space connected to ground sensors which “scan” the earth for the most likely spots for lithium and rare earth minerals. This speeds up the exploration process by a factor of 100 compared with traditional methodical drilling of prospects.
Confidentiality agreements cover many of those deals, but two companies which have spoken publicly about the use of the Fleet Space technology are United States group Talon Metals, which has an agreement to supply nickel to Elon Musk’s Tesla, and ASX-listed Core Lithium.
Mr Palermo was Virgin Galactic’s chief operating officer before being hand-picked to head the Australian Space Agency. He grew up in Perth and returned to Australia after 14 years at Richard Branson’s space tourism and aerospace-system manufacturing organisation.
He said the space sector had also been hit by inflation in the specialist raw materials and hi-tech avionics used in the industry. “We’re not immune to them,” he said.
Mr Palermo said the Artemis program led by the United States space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to bring humans back to the moon by 2025, would speed up technology and space engineering efforts.
The Artemis Accords, of which Australia is a signatory, has the ultimate ambition of inter-planetary exploration.
Mr Palermo, who will be speaking next month at an Austmine conference in Adelaide, said there were practical problems in basic civil engineering projects that needed to be solved for the moon to become the launchpad for exploration of other planets.
“How do you make bricks out of lunar soil?” he said. An Australian lunar rover, called the Trailblazer, will be deployed, most likely in 2026, to extract lunar dust as part of the overall program.
The Australian Space Agency has a central role in the regulations around new satellites going into orbit, which require a clear plan for their decommissioning as part of a broader “debris mitigation” effort.
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