Satellite Constellation Could Upend Seismic-Acquisition Industry

For years, the oil and gas industry has stored its seismic data on tape. While that had been the best format for the time, it wasn’t very efficient. The time needed to transfer data for analysis, and transfer that analysis back to the field, could be excruciatingly long, on the order or weeks or months. Now, a rapidly growing network of satellites, coupled with cloud storage, is set to neutralize that problem.

“There is a tremendous amount of time lost in the industry using tape,” said Guy Holmes, founder and chief executive officer of Tape Ark, “and the satellite constellation does stand to disrupt that in a way to bring data continuously back streaming directly into your office.”

Holmes has made saving the tape-bound data, and eliminating the need for it, his business. His first foray into liberating this data came in the form of balloons. Holmes used high-altitude balloons supplied by Google to loft transmitters and receivers so seismic data could be beamed from the source off site for analysis. The balloons were difficult to control, and Google soon lost interest, but space-exploration company SpaceX may be coming to the rescue.

“In the end, it became a little too hard, and Google had leased all of its balloons and had a backlog of other work to do,” Holmes said. “So, they suggested I talk to SpaceX.”

SpaceX is building a network of communication satellites called Starlink. Starlink already has nearly 500 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and has FAA approval to launch up to 30,000. “It’s growing by 60 satellites at a time,” Holmes said, adding, “They’re trying to achieve somewhere around 25 to 30 launches a year. It’s a pace that nobody has been able to achieve.”

The rapid pace of satellite placement is related to SpaceX’s ability to reuse its boosters, which land on a pad rather than drop into the ocean as boosters did in the past. This allows them to be cleaned and refueled quickly for another launch.

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October 13-15, 2020

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