Many companies today offer advanced hyperspectral instruments that measure reflectance across the light spectrum, from ultraviolet to infrared. These systems record spectral signatures from surface-based plants and minerals, many of which are known to be associated with hydrocarbon and ore deposits, and they can also be used to detect oil seeps. 

Currently, hyperspectral surveys are conducted by aircraft, but soon they will be available by satellite as well. Boeing recently announced that it had received an order from HySpecIQ for two small satellites that will carry the commercial remote sensing industry’s first high-resolution hyperspectral payloads, providing much greater imaging fidelity than what is commercially available today.

Boeing will initially deliver two satellites that are expected to launch in 2018 as well as command and control operations, image processing, and data storage, according to a Boeing press release.

According to Joseph D. Fargnoli, executive vice president of product development for HySpecIQ, the plan is proceeding along two tracks. Boeing is building the space systems infrastructure, while HySpecIQ is engaging with commercial customers across a number of market verticals, including oil and gas.

“We’re working with exploration geologists and production managers to really understand the information needs that hyperspectral can address,” Fargnoli said. “By better understanding their needs we can customize our analytics platform to deliver meaningful information products.”

He added that the company’s goal is to find the best way to both acquire remote sensing datasets and integrate them through advanced analytics techniques to deliver a set of information solutions. “We found that users really appreciate the value of hyperspectral data when it’s available, but that information has been costly and time-consuming to acquire using current aerial collection techniques,” he said. “It takes several months to navigate the local licensing and regulatory processes, contract with local pilots and collect the necessary volume of hyperspectral data.”

Using satellites in conjunction with aircraft or drones addresses these shortcomings in a cost-effective way. Even though the satellites are much farther away from the ground, they can be tasked to collect data in target regions very quickly and can revisit any location on Earth within a few days while collecting tens of thousands of square kilometers of data every day. “If we can acquire the data more frequently with a cost that compares favorably to airborne providers, we can get the economies of scale required to really transform this market,” he said. “We will be able to unleash the power of hyperspectral on a much broader scale.”

While the system is under construction, HySpecIQ is planning to extend its working relationships with oil and service companies to ensure that the end product suits their requirements. “We’ve developed our analytics inference engine with their applications in mind, but we also realize that we cannot anticipate all of our customer’ information needs,” he said. “As such, we are engaging with a number of early customers to better understand their needs and determine how hyperspectral imaging can be used to impact profitability and competiveness.”

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