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Rio Tinto, satellite startup launch early partnership

Satellite. (Reference image by Ars Electronica, Flickr).

The world’s no. 1 iron ore producer, Rio Tinto (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO), has entered an early-adoption partnership with Pixxel, an emerging US and India-based company focused on earth-imaging technology. 

According to a media statement, once Pixxel releases imagery from its first high-resolution satellite, set to launch later in January, Rio Tinto will begin its evaluation of the technology. 

The tech firm’s satellites are capable of 5-meter hyperspectral imaging which is expected to help the miner monitor active and closed mine sites, track ESG indicators, and advance mineral exploration.   

Hyperspectral imaging is a technique that analyzes a wide spectrum of light instead of just assigning primary colours to each pixel. The light striking each pixel is broken down into many different spectral bands to provide more information on what is captured.

“Pixxel plans to launch a high-resolution hyperspectral satellite, which will capture 50x information compared to common multispectral satellites,” the media brief states. “Rio Tinto will be assessing the potential of Pixxel’s hyperspectral imagery to help reduce the disturbance footprint of exploration activities, monitor the operational and environmental performance of active mining operations, and monitor biodiversity and vegetation health around closed sites.” 

In the view of Awais Ahmed, Pixxel co-founder and CEO, the exponential leap in image quality – that is 50x more detail than what other multispectral satellites can provide – will allow Rio to make key decisions with sustainability in mind at a lower cost than with existing systems. 

“Rio Tinto is participating in Pixxel’s Early Adopter Program because we believe that exploration could benefit from more cost-effective and easier access to hyperspectral satellite data”, Dave Andrews, head of exploration at Rio Tinto, said in the brief.