Canada in November 1995 launched the world's first commercially oriented remote sensing satellite to carry a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging system. Radarsat provides the oil and gas industry with a unique variety of exploration and mapping capabilities not previously offered by an operational imaging satellite. Radarsat's SAR data became commercially available in March 1996 at a cost ranging between 2 cents to $1.60/sq km for most products--a fraction of the cost of airborne SAR imagery.
The potential widespread utility of Radarsat data in the petroleum industry results from Radarsat's innovative development as a partnership between private industry and Canadian governments. Input from governmental organizations such as the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS) assured the satellite would have extensive applications in the exploration and production of oil and gas--among of Canada's chief exports. Design contributions from participating private organizations guarantee the satellite serves the operational needs of users; this is particularly important in commercial applications.
To provide remote sensing users worldwide with commercial access to Radarsat data, Canada placed data sales, marketing, and distribution functions under the responsibility of Radarsat International (RSI) of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, a private firm formed in 1989 to commercialize the country's rapidly growing remote sensing industry.
Neither Canada nor RSI is a newcomer to commercial remote sensing. For more than 20 years, Canada has downlinked satellite imagery to receiving stations in Gatineau, Que., and Prince Albert, Sask. For the past 6, RSI has handled the product development and distribution of U.S. Landsat, French SPOT, and European ERS data received at those stations. Recently, the company also signed an agreement to distribute Japanese JERS-1 data. RSI is establishing a network of receiving stations and sales agents similar to Landsat and SPOT for global distribution of Radarsat data.
E&P benefits of SAR
Since the early 1970s, SAR imagery has proved valuable in virtually every phase of hydrocarbon recovery from the initial geologic structural assessment and drill site selection to logistics planning and environmental remediation. However, due to the ready availability of optical Landsat and SPOT imagery and the lack of an operationally-oriented radar satellite, use of SAR imagery has often been limited to small-area airborne surveys.