Satellites Offer Miners Clearer Way of Planning Mine Logistics (Industrial Minerals Article)

Industrial Minerals front cover

Airbus case study mention in Industrial Minerals

Developments in satellite technology are increasingly being used to add a new layer of detail in mine development, from logistics planning to tailings dump design.

Decisions made in the feasibility of a mine’s life have a significant impact through mine planning, operations and ultimately closure and rehabilitation.

According to Sweden headquartered heavy plant and machinery provider, Scandia, “transporation takes up a third or more of the cost of many mining operations. And as the mining business expands worldwide, equipment and logistics have a hard time keeping up”

Mongolian design

Aspire’s Northern Railways, was responsible for connecting Erdenet to the company’s remote exploration at Ovoot. However, before ground could be broken, extensive prefeasibility studies (PFS) were necessary to obtain government approval and identify what infrastructure was already in place or needed developing.

Airbus Defence and Space was contacted by Aspire through its logical distributor, Geomaster, to deliver detailed maps and elevation data for specific areas of interest across the north of Mongolia. The mining company was keen to plan and develop rail infrastructure required to connect the mining project with Erdenet.

Airbus provided the necessary high-resolution stereo imagery from its optical Pleiades satellite constellation. Pleiades provides premium, high-resolution imagery (50cm), with a worldwide daily revisit capability and capacity to deliver stereo and tristereo maps.

Resolution often refers to the area represented by each pixel in the image. A 60cm resolution means that each pixel represents an area of 60cm x 60cm on the ground. The resolution is sometimes referred to as the Ground Sample Distance (GSD).

Typically, there are three distinct model types built using satellite data. A digital Elevation Model (DEM) is 3D representation of terrain’s surface; a Digital Surface Model (DSM) represents the earth’s surface and everything on it, including infrastructure and transport networks, buildings, road and vegetation; while a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) has all above ground detail removed, leaving a clean impression of the surface.

Geomaster then used the delivered images to establish control points on the ground before Airbus Defence and Space’s team were able to develop the 3D vector map. This exclusive data set provided information on terrain features, such as elevation, buildings and roads, as well as cultural landmarks and potential obstacles and became the core tool for the mining company’s desktop engineering project, used to identify the most direct infrastructure route and conduct all PFSs.

Following delivery of the desktop engineering plans, Aspire was able to progress regulatory approvals from the Mongolian government for a PFS. However, the biggest benefit was the discovery of a much shorter and more direct route between the mine and Erdenet, positioning the rail line further south than originally planned.

The area was fully acquired in the last quarter of 2013, just before the arrival of winter, which is particularly harsh in Mongolia. Over the winter months, Airbus generation a 1:5000 scale topographic map, allowing Aspire to progress engineering studies earlier than expected.

The new, shorter rail route is also expected to significantly reduce operating costs.

“With the use of the Pleiades mapping and other technologies under licence, we were able to achieve cost and time reductions,” says Matthew Crompton, director of infrastructure development at Aspire. “This is critical in the early planning stages of major capital project development.”


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