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Space technology monitors heavy mining machines


Spin-offs from space programmes are being used in a new system for remote monitoring of heavy-duty machinery operating at excavation and mining sites worldwide.

Using ESA’s Business Incubation Centre, four companies working together with help from ESA experts were able to pool ideas to produce a system with a faster response time, increasing both safety and productivity.

Mining is often done at remote sites, which are difficult to monitor from a company’s central control base. At the same time, any problems or failures with the large and expensive trucks and excavators need to be resolved fast to minimise downtime. This calls for good and reliable communication facilities.

Dutch start-up company EstrellaSat, nurtured at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, has come up with a turnkey system based on space-derived technologies that enable a central control base to monitor machines and the people operating them at the company’s excavation sites in real time.

“Our goal is to increase the productive availability of ultra-heavy mining trucks, giant excavators and earthmovers that extract and transport mineral ore from open-cut mines to processing facilities in some of the most remote regions of the planet,” says Jean Verhardt, inventor of the system and manager of EstrellaSat BV.

Reliable links to remote locations

Verhardt has created a special mobile data platform based on technology originally developed to overcome errors and loss in communication with distant spacecraft.

“Onboard each vehicle a central computer collects and analyses data from up to 300 sensors placed on the machine and on the driver. A broadband mobile satellite link polls thousands of machines scattered over an entire continent and checks if each unit is working properly. If a sensor records an abnormal situation, it raises a warning at the control base,” explains Verhardt.

Following the front wheel loader via satellite

“Once the operators at the control base receive the flashing warning on the screen, they can bring up a helicopter-view of the site and see the exact locations of all units.”

“They also have access to a 3D transparent, intuitive view of the vehicle, which can be shared with engineers located at the base, at the excavation site itself, and with technicians from the company’s support team. All the experts are connected to solve the problem as fast as possible and to keep the vehicle in operation with as little interruption as possible,” adds Verhardt.

Several space technology spin-offs improved final solution

In addition to the satellite modem, Verhardt improved his system by incorporating space technology transfers from other start-up companies located at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre.

The company EATOPS specialises in providing advanced tools and systems to monitor remote gas and oil offshore. It contributed to EstrellaSat’s service with its RIVOPS product, an advanced graphical user interface system that provides an intelligent and easy overview of a large number of monitored parameters.

The Dutch company ’emxys’, which develops intelligent-textile products for health monitoring of athletes, provided their ’trainGrid’ technology, an intelligent shirt that can monitor the health of machine operators, improving their safety.

Finally, the company ’bliin’, which develops a mobile and online social network for users to share information, added with their technology handheld location devices to the EstrellaSat system.

ESA expertise supports spin-offs at Business Incubation Centre

“We support start-up companies that have specific business ideas and would like to apply space technology to other products on Earth,” says Bruno Naulais, European Space Business Incubators Network Manager.

“The example of how EstrellaSat has pulled together a number of different space spin-offs shows the advantage of having different entrepreneurs under the same roof here at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre. Being close to the expertise and support from ESA engineers has helped the development of the EstrellaSat system into a complete turnkey solution.”


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