What is Hyperspectral Monitoring?

Decreasing Costs of Regulatory Compliance and Increasing Accuracy with Spectral Intelligence

Every pipeline operator’s top priority is to move their product efficiently and reliably. Ensuring that this happens requires costly and complicated monitoring procedures, which frankly are not efficient or reliable themselves. When they come up short, it can lead to operators’ biggest nightmare—costly and damaging leaks.

Now, however, Orbital Sidekick is offering a win-win solution: better monitoring at a lower cost. It works by leveraging cutting-edge hyperspectral technology to make objective, accurate information about pipelines accessible to operators. But before explaining how the technology works, let’s look at how pipeline monitoring typically happens today.

Monitoring and Compliance are Major Cost Drivers in the Pipeline Industry

Pipeline operators use a variety of methods for monitoring. One of the most common procedures, however, is surprisingly primitive: operators send planes out over the right of way, and the pilot looks out the window for signs of danger, whether that is construction equipment in the vicinity of the pipeline or pooling oil on the ground.

Current monitoring techniques leave much to be desired

The costs of this system are obvious: from staffing crews that will monitor the right of way, to maintaining and operating an extensive system of sensors, it is expensive to ensure the integrity of pipelines and remain in compliance with regulatory requirements. On top of that, these methods are often subjective and unreliable, leading to even more costly failures and leaks, not to mention the reputational damage that comes with such incidents.

The time has come for high-tech solutions to the problem of pipeline monitoring and regulatory compliance. Hyperspectral monitoring has long been out of reach for pipeline operators, but Orbital Sidekick is making this game-changing technology accessible, scalable, and affordable for the first time. It will allow operators to survey the entirety of their assets regularly, at a fraction of the cost, commercially for the first time. But how does the technology work, and how can it impact the pipeline business?

Orbital Sidekick and Spectral Intelligence Leverage Space-Age Technology to See More Than the Naked Eye

Orbital Sidekick works by producing hyperspectral images and analyses for its clients. These images are created by special cameras housed in satellites orbiting the Earth. A hyperspectral image is a picture that combines multiple bands from the electromagnetic spectrum in every pixel. In this sense, it is similar to the human eye: we have cells in our retinas that can sense three bands of frequency. We perceive lower frequency electromagnetic waves as red, shorter waves as blue, and the ones in the middle are green.

But our eyes only perceive light within a small fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes everything from radio waves the size of a school bus to gamma rays small enough to scramble human DNA. Technologies like infrared and multispectral sensors can collect data from a larger range of frequencies, and tell us a lot more about objects than visible light can — for example, whether it is radiating heat. But even these sensors collect data on a small number of relatively broad frequency bands. What separates hyperspectral monitoring is that it collects data from hundreds of narrow bands, in Orbital Sidekick’s case, within the visible and infrared spectra. This means for greater resolution, and an improved ability to distinguish between different objects, materials, and chemical compounds.

OSK’s monitoring service solution for the Oil & Gas industry

We rely on our brain to interpret the information collected by our eyes and generate an understandable image with it, and Orbital Sidekick’s Spectral Intelligence works the same way. OSK’s aerial and space-based assets generate data “cubes” which are essentially a collection of two-dimensional images, each taken within a certain band of the electromagnetic spectrum, stacked on top of each other. That means that every pixel within the image contains hundreds of data points. These data stacks are huge and difficult to analyze, but Spectral Intelligence works like the human brain in making them quickly and easily understandable.

This is done, as with our own visual process, by focusing on what’s important. For example, OSK identifies the distinct features of the spectral signatures generated by hydrocarbons and can instantly tell whether oil is impacting the soil around a pipeline, even if the spill is not visible. This is possible because of the unparalleled spectral resolution offered by hyperspectral technology. Spectral Intelligence is also superior to human observers, or even remote digital sensors, because it can monitor the entire right of way on a continuous basis and compare it to a reference file of what the surroundings should look like. This way operators can quickly identify new construction equipment in the area and make sure no one is accidentally drilling into the pipeline.

Spectral Intelligence in action: OSK’s high-resolution images can detect the unique spectral signatures of chemicals instantly.

Spectral Intelligence uses an algorithm to prioritize the delivery of critical information to its clients. As you might imagine, getting huge data sets down from a satellite to us Earthlings is difficult and time-consuming. In order to make sure that data which can prevent a major incident makes it to clients quickly, and in a cost-effective manner, Spectral Intelligence’s on-board processing analyzes the images autonomously. If it identifies something important, such as the presence of hydrocarbons where before there were none, it immediately downlinks the relevant information, including the location and nature of the anomaly.

Lower Costs and Achieve Operational Excellence with OSK and SI

Once all of Orbital Sidekick’s space-based assets are in place, they will be able to monitor all of their clients’ assets on a daily basis. There will be no more need to send planes flying over the right of way. Replacing the ineffective, invasive, and costly systems used for monitoring today with Orbital Sidekick’s centralized service will realize savings across organizations. Moreover, it will streamline clients’ operations and allow them to focus on what they do best.

With Spectral Intelligence, clients will also have access to more reliable, objective information about their pipelines and right of ways. With this data at their fingertips, they will be able to react more quickly and intelligently to any incidents. This can reduce the costs associated with major spills and false positives. Right now, 90% of monitoring resources are spent on non-issues, while 10% is spent on actual problems. Imagine reversing that ratio.

It’s not often that you have the chance to get better results at a lower cost. But it is the case here, because the technology represents a quantum leap from what is currently in use. For the energy sector and beyond, Orbital Sidekick’s space-age powers of chemical detection will revolutionize the way we monitor our assets.

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