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Positively impacting Chilean mining sector through space-based technology

By Chris Reeve, Satellite Applications Catapult

The Satellite Applications Catapult has recently completed a project investigating how satellite technology can create a positive socio-economic impact on mining operations in Chile. Project Manager, Chris Reeve, identifies the key output.

Mining in Chile

A significant element of the Catapult’s remit is identifying and nurturing international relationships where the collaborative culture and market attributes are most likely to create opportunities for UK business in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This has seen us working with partners and organisations in Peru, Australia, Kenya, Thailand, Pitcairn Island, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Malaysia, in sectors spanning healthcare, agriculture, fishing, disaster management and financial services.

British-Chilean collaboration

Most recently, we completed the ‘Hephaestus’ project in Chile which involved leading an international team of British and Chilean organisations. The main objective was to consider how satellite technology can create a positive socio-economic impact on mining operations in Chile’s Coquimbo region, with a particular focus on the small and medium-sized companies, which represent 40% of the country’s mining industry.

The other British partner in the Project Hephaestus consortium was the British Geological Survey, while Chile was represented by:

We also had several data suppliers as part of the extended project team including:

There was also essential local coordination and facilitation support provided by UK Trade and Investment at the British Embassy in Santiago. The Newton Fund supported this project.

New technology to improve economic and environmental impacts of Chile’s mining sector

We anticipated that newly-developed applications could deliver significant economic improvements to Chile’s mining sector over the next decade, as well as improvements in environmental management of extractive industries, which would also have broader applicability worldwide.

Following the inaugural trip where copper mining challenge areas were identified and prioritised by the Chilean teams, five satellite data products were developed by UK and European SMEs.

The Catapult created a further five products covering environmental monitoring, supply chain and mining operations. These addressed issues such as:

  • Locating and assessing water and mineral deposits
  • Analysing and monitoring tailings
  • Monitoring the environmental impact of extraction and transportation
  • Planning compliance

3D gaming allows you to “fly” through Chile’s mining region

A pilot application showed how the satellite data products could be visualised in 3D by end-users without requiring any specialist knowledge, skills or expensive hardware.

Building on a 3D gaming engine licensed from Fatmap, the application provides an immersive and interactive environment that allows users to “fly” through the region of Chile where the products were created and navigate directly to specific points of interest.

Using satellite-based data to drive business process changes

The application showcases the potential of using satellite-based data to drive business process changes, reducing the need to visit the locations and reaching a broad number of stakeholders.

Collectively, the tools demonstrate how satellite data and analytics can enable and facilitate evidence-based decisions, to help agencies clearly identify where they should focus their efforts in order to support and accelerate regional mining ecosystems.

100 possible further opportunities

Overall, Project Hephaestus identified more than 100 possible further opportunities for improvements within Chile’s mining sector, covering geological items, environmental items and the supply chain.

Through a series of collaborative projects, we have developed great relationships with Chilean organisations encompassing:

  • land use
  • agriculture
  • disaster management
  • environmental monitoring in mineral extraction

Looking to the future, we will continue working with our partners in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America, initiating further collaborative opportunities.