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On Aug. 10, Ithaca, NY-based Ursa Space Systems Inc. announced in a press release that in the next few months, they will be launching the world's first system of timely inventory reports of global oil storage levels. The intelligence and research company will deliver oil storage data sets based on regions, beginning with Europe, Middle East/North Africa and the Caribbean.
Ursa has been commanding a similar initiative in China for a few months, and according to Matt Wood, Ursa's Vice President of Sales and Marketing, the success of that endeavor plus added collaboration from customers during development has led to the creation of the new global business venture.
Their method of providing information to clients is using Synthetic Aperture Radar to physically map the oil stores, then synthesizing that information.
Synthetic Aperture Radar readings have a bright future
SAR technology is a small yet growing part of the Earth Observation market, which is an industry dedicated to turning detailed satellite images of Earth into information which companies can use for specific business gains.
The systems through which SAR images are obtained are very complex and varied. But at its most basic level, it works the same as most radars, in that, pulses of varying wavelength are emitted from a source and echoed back to the point of origin, at which point they are analyzed to give a detailed depiction of an area. In SAR readings, pulses are sent from airborne satellites.
According to Sandia National Laboratories, the technology does not use any traditional optical-based methods of data collection; readings are based solely on the geographic makeup of the selected terrain. This allows SAR to give accurate readings regardless of what the weather is like or what time of day it is.
It has been used for military surveillance operations and determining structural information by geologists, and its commercial usage is growing due to decreased costs of electronics.
Northern Sky Research expects the field of SAR popularity to increase at twice the level of optical imagery over the next 10 years.
According to the NSR report Satellite-Based Earth Observation, 8th Edition, SAR technology is the fastest growing tenant in the EO market and it's expected to reach $6.2 billion in global revenue by 2025.
North America, Europe and Asia are where 85 percent of the EO business is concentrated due to their existing space programs and familiarity with the machinations and commercial implementations of its technologies.
SAR in China and beyond
Ursa delivered its first product in May, which was a weekly report on China's crude oil storage levels. In an interview with ViaSatallite, Ursa Space System founder Adam Maher stated that their data successfully covered 75 percent of the country's oil reserves and was marketed toward companies in the financial and energy industries.
The initiative saw success due to SAR's ability to perform in unfavorable atmospheric conditions.
"Seeing through clouds is a huge advantage," said Maher in the interview. "Eastern China, where a lot of the oil is stored, is an incredibly cloudy place. Not to mention smog."
The reliability of the technology allowed for more consistent readings than other EO systems.
"We measure the same tanks every week," noted Mahar. "That reliability was really needed for modern-day trading models to be effective and have good predictions…Let's say you only got an image every 50 or 60 days of a location. How much has happened in the geopolitical landscape in that time? That's an eternity."
Mahar said that his company spoke with many customers across different "market verticals" and found that many of them hoped for better means to understand the data offered by SAR satellites. So rather than building their own array of SAR satellites, known in the industry as constellations, Ursa invested more heavily into developing advanced analytics software that could filter and condense any relevant information their customers wished for. They acquired their readings using the many commercial satellites already in existence.
The company hopes to expand their reach into every facet of the oil and gas supply and demand chain.
"Our reliable and independent measurement of global oil stocks helps our customers build a more accurate balance sheet for better insight on oil supply and demand; especially for areas of the world that are opaque," said Wood in an Ursa press release.
Eventually, Ursa hopes to monitor real-time events such as pipeline breaks and the area of spillage, providing that information not only to affected industry players but to any company that could find the information useful.
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