Where subterranean meets space: Cornwall’s mining industry soaring to new heights


With a history of mining dating back to the early Bronze Age, Cornwall’s mining and exploration industry has been one of the cornerstones of the region. By the 1800s Cornwall was not only the mining centre of the world, famous for its base metal and tin production and boasting the richest square mile on Earth, but also home to some of the most forward-thinking engineers of the time – engineers who harnessed new and evolving technology to revolutionize the mining industry. A key part of the industry’s success was the use of these new and emerging technologies taken from all sectors: expanding the application of the mining practices and processes for the benefit of the local economy – leading to Cornish expertise, minerals and technology being exported across the globe.

It is this adventurous and disruptive spirit that is driving the recent rise of active mining and exploration in Cornwall. Businesses across all aspects of the sector, exploration, mining and geotechnics, are embracing new tech and new applications of existing technologies to help aid and drive this forward. Companies have been exploiting the techniques and technologies emerging from the Cornish Space and Aerospace industries to reach new heights, as Cornwall becomes a cornerstone of the UK Space industry.

Part of our role at Cornwall Space Cluster is to help innovative businesses boost their offering: enabling them to pivot into the space and aerospace sectors via funding and support and promotion.

This synergy between mining and space spans across all levels of the supply chain – bringing unexpected industries together. From component manufacturing to final end data users, initial mineral exploration (green & brown field), extraction and mine closure through the application of satellite and drone EO data, lidar and hyperspectral – the pioneering spirit of the new age of mining comes from the collaboration of businesses with all manner of specialisms. Those with no previous background in the industry are seeing the potential of this resurgence and how they can fit into this unique cross-industry cluster, and this mutually beneficial relationship is paving the way for the next generation of research and development – exporting technology worldwide and boosting Cornwall’s economy.

In Cornwall, drones are being used to survey inaccessible areas such as cliff faces, allowing the monitoring of geotechnical stability issues and land mass movement. Businesses are also utilising satellite data to aid with mineral exploration, combining this with traditional exploration and mapping techniques to help increase efficiency and confidence.

Not only does Cornwall have the potential to produce some of the critical raw materials that the space and aerospace manufacturing supply chain rely on, but businesses are starting to use technology more commonly attributed with the space industry: finding new applications and opening up new intersectoral possibilities.

Cornish Lithium – an innovative mineral exploration and research and development company – is one of the key businesses emerging within this new chapter. They use satellite and drone data to undertake mineral mapping and structural interpretation. The business has reinterpreted the mineral potential of Cornwall for lithium, combining traditional industry practices with cutting edge technology. Not only have they harnessed technology and big data from the space and aerospace sectors but, by re-evaluating historic mining areas in the region for lithium and other technology metals such as tin, copper and cobalt, the company is also helping build a secure domestic supply chain for these metals. This is vital to the industrial strategy for the UK and the UK’s space & aerospace manufacturing supply chain.

Another catalyst in the resurgence of mining within the county is Cornish Metals – a Canadian company whose practices (and new name) have positioned them at the heart of the sector. In July 2016 Cornish Metals acquired South Crofty – arguably one of the most important historical tin mines in the UK. With a new lease of life, the mine now has an operational permit and is set to pave the way for the production of ‘clean tin’ – the project has the potential to be the one of the only high-grade tin producers in Europe and will help meet the growing supply deficit of this vital technology metal. As over 50% of worldwide tin consumption is attributed to high-tech electronics, solar panels and battery production, the extraction of tin will help strengthen the local supply chain for aerospace and space industries within the region.

The world-renowned Camborne School of Mines is at the forefront of education and research within the industry, as well as the application and invention of technology. The school continues to evolve its expertise, developing innovative multi-disciplinary and cross-sector projects. Drs Matthew Eyre and Declan Vogt and Professor John Coggan are designing and building ARISE – an autonomous robot. The rover’s ‘brain’ has been developed through GMV’s Space Segment. The unique software within ARISE can be harnessed for all manner of extreme environments, from space to subterranean – the robot is the embodiment of today’s technology being used to create the industry of tomorrow.

Minviro is another new company operating within Cornwall and internationally, focusing on improving the sustainability and reducing environmental impacts of mining and metal projects. Minviro uses data driven solutions such as life cycle assessments to measure and predict the environmental performance of mining projects and propose how these impacts can be mitigated. Minviro uses a combination of data to quantify impacts such as global warming, water use and impacts on biodiversity. They provide a consultancy service to a number of technology metal projects that are in the planning, development or operations stage and have a focus on supporting projects that will provide raw materials for the low carbon economy – as well as the space and aerospace supply chain. Minviro is also developing a software tool to allow mining companies to carry out environmental impact calculations quickly and efficiently. Their work will ensure that these metals will be extracted, processed and refined in a sustainable way and with minimal environmental cost.

This broad range of projects demonstrates how different sectors are marrying the expertise and traditions of the past with the technologies and innovations of today, paving the way for the future of the mining industry through its unique connection with, and contribution to, the aerospace and space sector.

Many businesses involved with mining (and associated) industries haven’t yet explored their place in the new ecosystem of industry within Cornwall. The team at Cornwall Space Cluster are always looking for local and national businesses with ideas that align with that of the space, data and aerospace industries and the world class expertise in this field within the county, so that they can support, promote and champion. The cluster is particularly interested in businesses and organisations who have applications in exploration, mining and extraction, mineral processing, health & safety, training, geotechnics and surveying, and may consist of research and development, manufacturing of equipment, software development, AI (artificial intelligence), drones and satellites, big data or beyond.

Get in touch with the team at Cornwall Space Cluster to find out more.