Orbital Sidekick uses Amazon Web Services to monitor energy pipelines and reduce risks and emissions

by Mirza Nizamuddin | on

Orbital Sidekick (OSK) uses advanced satellite technology and data analytics to help the energy industry protect pipelines and make them less vulnerable to risks such as leaks, contamination, and damage caused by construction and natural disasters. OSK uses compute and analytics services from Amazon Web Services (Amazon Web Services) to power the scalable OSK data pipeline and imagery storage solution in order to persistently monitor tens of thousands of miles of pipeline energy infrastructure and deliver real-time, actionable insights to customers.

In June 2021, the Amazon Web Services Aerospace and Satellite team selected OSK as part of the four-week Amazon Web Services Space Accelerator program to provide guidance on how best to make huge amounts of data about pipelines usable and actionable with cloud computing and analytics technologies. Now in its third year, the Amazon Web Services Space Accelerator is a hybrid technical, business, and mentorship opportunity open to space startups from around the globe who are looking to power their space missions using Amazon Web Services. In 2023, the Space Accelerator focuses on using space as a sustainable and usable environment and for solutions that positively impact life on Earth. The OSK persistent monitoring service helps commercial and government organizations meet their sustainable operations; environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG); and security goals.

Founded in 2016, OSK has rapidly developed and deployed its technology to collect, process, and analyze advanced hyperspectral data, powered by Amazon Web Services. Hyperspectral imaging collects and processes information across the electromagnetic spectrum, or all the different kinds of electric and magnetic waves that transfer energy and information across the universe, like radio waves, ultraviolet radiation, and visible light.

Traditional pipeline monitoring methods have relied on aerial scans, pressure sensors, or handheld optical gas imaging cameras. These approaches lack the persistent, objective, high-accuracy monitoring capabilities that customers need to quickly identify and act on risks, and can be expensive to maintain, ineffective, and difficult to scale.

Now, energy customers can modernize pipeline monitoring and mitigate risk using OSK’s constellation of satellites equipped with hyperspectral sensors for monitoring and Spectral Intelligence Global Monitoring Application ( SIGMA ) solution to analyze the data. By equipping satellites with sensors that can capture images across the electromagnetic spectrum, OSK can provide highly detailed information from space about situations on Earth. This lets customers closely monitor critical infrastructure, even gas and oil pipelines that are buried deep underground, and quickly identify issues.

Figure 1. The OSK SIGMA monitoring dashboard.

Figure 1. The OSK SIGMA monitoring system dashboard.

OSK leverages Amazon Web Services infrastructure, compute, and scalability to process all the data and uses Amazon Web Services machine learning (ML) algorithms to provide context for the information. This enables OSK to identify and report detected leaks to operators within hours, rather than the days or weeks necessary in traditional detection approaches. Companies can use these insights to minimize emissions, exceed regulatory requirements, and reduce their carbon footprints.

Already, OSK’s monitoring and intelligent analytic technologies powered by Amazon Web Services have monitored more than 12,000 miles of pipelines to date, flagging nearly 100 suspected methane leaks, 200 suspected liquid hydrocarbon leaks, and more than 300 intrusive events related to construction activities. For example, OSK recently identified 57 methane leaks and eight liquid hydrocarbon leaks during construction activities, allowing pipeline operators to quickly halt work and fix issues.

Figure 1. OSK's cloud-powered scale-to-zero data pipeline architecture.

Figure 2. OSK’s cloud-powered scale-to-zero data pipeline architecture.

OSK leverages Amazon Web Services serverless computing technology to operate a scale-to-zero data pipeline that can process new satellite data within a few minutes of it being received on the ground. When data is received from OSK’s ground station partners in Amazon Simple Storage Service ( Amazon S3 ), this activates an Amazon EventBridge event to start the data pipeline, which processes the data using Amazon Web Services Step Functions to coordinate Amazon Web Services Lambda functions and Amazon Web Services Fargate tasks to process all the received data in parallel. Once the data is processed, all these resources scale back down to zero. This serverless architecture on Amazon Web Services serverless enables OSK to quickly scale up large amounts of compute when OSK’s satellites transmit data to its ground station partners and scale down while they’re in the rest of their orbit.

These capabilities will also serve OSK’s upcoming launch of its GHOSt constellation, a fleet of satellites equipped with best-in-class hyperspectral sensors. The first two GHOSt satellites will launch aboard Transporter 7 in April, with four more launches planned for later this year. By the end of 2023, OSK’s GHOSt constellation will be capable of transmitting half a petabyte of hyperspectral imagery for analysis at max capacity every month.

The Amazon Web Services Global Infrastructure enables OSK to satisfy security and sustainability requirements for customers in the defense, intelligence, and energy sectors. The wide variety of purpose-built Amazon Web Services databases for different types of applications allows OSK’s SIGMA monitoring platform to integrate seamlessly with its more than 300 security, compliance, and governance services and features at scale. The company’s customers already include a number of Fortune 500 energy companies, including Williams, ONEOK and Energy Transfer. OSK has also secured agreements to support the US Government through its partnerships with In-Q-Tel, the Air Force, and the Space Force. OSK also collaborates with the US Geological Survey and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. OSK was recently awarded a multi-year National Reconnaissance Office contract under the Strategic Commercial Enhancements (SCE) Commercial Hyperspectral Capabilities focus area.

Looking ahead, Orbital Sidekick plans to expand using Amazon Web Services within a variety of commercial sectors, with use cases ranging from rare earth material exploration and wildfire resilience to disaster relief and global defense support.

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