Remote sensors developed for Australian miners will soon head for the moon

Cosmos Magazine


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By Cosmos

Australian remote sensing technology is leaping from the Outback to the Moon where it’s due to touch down in 2026.

Adelaide-based Fleet Space Technologies‘ SPIDER seismic sensor system has been selected to fly aboard a Firefly Aerospace Blue Ghost lander mission to the lunar surface.

SPIDER (Seismic Payload for Interplanetary Discovery, Exploration and Research) is part of the Australian Space Agency’s (ASA) Moon to Mars Demonstrator program. Fleet was awarded a $4 million grant earlier this year to adapt its existing sensor technology to cope with the challenges of space radiation and the Moon’s intrusive – and abrasive – regolith.

The Fleet seismic sensor will capture the natural seismic signals rumbling through the Moon’s interior. This raw data will be transmitted through an umbilical tether to the lander before being analysed.

Fleet says SPIDER, and its terrestrial seismic sensors called Geodes, have distinct differences in design and function due to their operating environments.

“SPIDER is engineered to be compact to meet the stringent size and weight constraints of lunar missions while maintaining heightened sensitivity,” says Gerrit Olivier, Chief Scientist at Fleet Space Technologies.

“On Earth, seismic noise is largely attributed to human activities, and natural interactions such as water meeting shorelines. The Moon’s seismic environment is considerably quieter. The primary source of lunar seismic noise is the continuous barrage of micrometeorite impacts, producing a constant yet weak signal, that can be leveraged to analyse the Moon’s subsurface structure.

“SPIDER will also attempt to monitor for deeper seismic events or moonquakes, which are expected to provide insights into the Lunar crust’s internal composition.”

The data will offer insights into the geological properties of the lunar subsurface and its mineral profile, such as water ice, that can support lunar infrastructure and further regolith exploration.

The challenges of the lunar environment are complex, says Olivier. “Indeed, radiation poses a significant challenge for lunar operations. To mitigate this, we implement a range of engineering strategies and incorporate materials into our sensor design that have been certified for radiation durability.

“The Moon’s crust presents another interesting engineering challenge since it is highly fragmented due to relentless meteorite bombardment over millennia. This severe fragmentation, along with the absence of liquid water, leads to the widespread diffusion of seismic waves, making the lunar crust reverberate ‘like a bell’ – to use an analogy – with each meteorite strike. Considering these unique lunar conditions is crucial when designing and deploying seismic sensors on the Moon.”

SPIDER is an evolution of Fleet’s Exosphere sensor technology, which has already deployed more than a thousand sensors, called Geodes, where it helps sense and refine the location of mineral deposits.

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A profile image of the Firefly Blue Ghost lunar lander scheduled for launch in 2026 (Fleet)

The ASA grant will enable Fleet to assemble the SPIDER unit to be deployed on the lander.

“Any infrastructure built on other worlds will depend on a deep understanding of the in-situ subsurface composition – and we’re honoured to collaborate with the international community to help unlock critical insights for sustaining human life beyond Earth,” says Fleet co-founder Matt Pearson.

Olivier told Cosmos the the main objective is to use SPIDER to search for water ice in the Moon’s subsurface.

“The presence and accessibility of high-quality water ice deposits on the moon are crucial not only for the sustainability of human life at a lunar base, but also as a fundamental resource for creating propellant, making the moon a strategic pitstop for future missions to Mars and beyond.

“Laboratory studies have revealed that our technology is highly tailored for locating water ice, as seismic waves can reveal even moderate ice concentrations within the lunar regolith.

“Beyond ice, our research also aims to understand the lunar regolith’s geotechnical characteristics. Considering that the Moon’s soil differs significantly from Earth’s, and is still largely unknown, this information is essential for the design and construction of secure lunar habitats.”

Space mining on the moon closer than you think

The Blue Ghost lander mission is part of an international collaboration where payloads from NASA and the European Space Agency will be carried to the Moon by commercial operators.

The lunar lander will carry a 150kg payload and the power, data and thermal support systems to operate for up to 14 days at the far side of the lunar south pole.

Artists impression: the Firefly Blue Ghost lander will deliver a NASA radio telescope and Fleet’s seismic sensor to the far side of the Lunar south pole. (Supplied Fleet)

Olivier says data will be relayed back to Earth via Firefly’s lander, so the majority of the processing will be done on Earth.

“During the mission, we will also test some edge processing on the device, as this will be required for future missions where we hope to send arrays of SPIDERS to scan large areas of the lunar surface for water ice.”

From here, NASA’s LuSEE-Night radio telescope will use the Moon to shield background “noise” from Earth to produce a clearer image of the universe’s background radiation. Data from this and SPIDER will be relayed back to Earth via the European Space Agency’s Lunar Pathfinder satellite.

 “Innovating for the harsh environment in space, where resources like water are scarce, drives a shift in engineering approach that ultimately advances technology and sustainable practices here on Earth,” says ASA head Enrico Palermo. “Fleet’s partnership with Firefly Aerospace is an important milestone as we seek to showcase more unique Australian technologies in space.”

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