The countdown is on, and before the end of this year a new space mission will provide high-quality and valuable data that can benefit various aspects of the Canadian economy, including the oil and gas industry.

While an exact date is yet to be specified publicly, in late-2018 Canada will launch its three-satellite configuration RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM).

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Natural Resources Canadarepresentatives told the Bulletin (via an email response compiled by an agency spokeswoman) that Canada’s current RADARSAT-2 satellite is measuring short- and- long-term ground deformation at CSS and SAGD enhanced oil recovery sites in Alberta.

Technology used to measure ground deformation and subsidence is called ‘Differential Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar’ (DInSAR), and RADARSAT-2 currently measures a given area with DInSAR every 24 days. The soon-to-be-launched RCM will offer a four-day revisit period, providing more data more quickly to industry.

Rapid-revisit capability enables measurement of ground subsidence on soft soils along the pipeline routes, according to the email response, helping steam-injection operators monitor and prevent potential pipeline leaks, improving safe mining practices in the oilsands.

Precision of each DInSAR interferogram computed from two synthetic aperture radar images is not that high — about one or two centimetres. However, processing many images together can provide precise results. Since the location of fractures or faults is often unknown prior to activation, space agency and NRCan experts believe the spatially-dense DInSAR observations may be the only source of reliable information.

Therefore, RCM ground deformation maps should provide useful information about inter-well interactions that help reduce some of the risks associated with mining operations.

Other RCM uses include validation of numerical models that may lack precision due to various processes used in the reservoir, detection of possible excessive ground deformation before a reservoir leaks and identification, as well as monitoring of ground subsidence produced by excessive groundwater extraction during mining operations.

This new constellation mission also improves monitoring of ground and slope stability in current and future pipeline corridors, reducing infrastructure risk associated with geohazards like landslides and permafrost. Further, RCM provides more accurate and frequent iceberg and sea ice information, reducing risks associated with offshore oil and gas operations. Also, RCM offers improved detection and response to offshore oil spills.

Five years ago, then-federal industry minister Christian Paradis, who was also minister responsible for the CSA at the time, announced a $706-million contract with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA)to construct, launch and provide initial operations for RCM sometime this year (DOB, Jan. 16, 2013).

RADARSAT-2 update

Regarding RADARSAT-2, MDA (now called ‘Maxar Technologies Ltd.) announced late last month that it had signed multiple geospatial-related contracts based on RADARSAT-2 satellite information.

According to a company news release, RADARSAT-2 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery provides users with a unique method of accurately monitoring very large areas to locate, track, measure, and monitor objects. A rich source for analytics, SAR imagery reveals key details about a changing earth and the impact of human activity across the globe. The contracts have a combined value of approximately C$16 million.

One of those contracts provides RADARSAT-2 based information services for onshore and offshore monitoring to multiple oil and gas customers.