Innovative Monitoring System Measures Tension On Subsea Risers And Pipelines

September 2013, Vol. 240 No. 9

Through a collaboration between NASA and Astro Technology Inc., a first-of-its-kind fiber-optic monitoring system was recently installed on two oil platforms off the coast of West Africa. The installation marks a milestone in the organizations’ efforts to adapt aerospace technology for use in the oil and gas industry.

Known as the Tendon Tension Monitoring System (TTMS), this technology uses a fiber-optic strain gauge system and a series of sensor clamps to measure the tension on subsea risers and pipelines. For this first experimental installation, 16 TTMS clamps were attached to two separate drill platforms by commercial divers using an underwater adhesive tested at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Fiber-optic cables were then routed from the clamps to a control room aboard each platform.

The system senses any stresses along the platform’s four legs and streams the data in real time, enabling operators to make immediate adjustments to maintain the stability of the platform. David Brower, president of Astro Technology, said such precise, real-time monitoring can help prevent accidents that might otherwise lead to production interruptions, environmental damage and fatalities.

Brower said the TTMS is a more cost-effective and reliable alternative to the monitoring systems currently in use on most platforms. While tendon tension can be monitored through traditional load cells, the sensors on the TTMS are able to detect much more subtle changes in tension due to tides, wave activity, storms and even routine boat docking operations.

“This important technology could not have been developed so quickly and effectively without NASA’s support, facilitated through a Space Act Agreement,” Brower added. Space Act Agreements allow NASA to partner with outside organizations to bring NASA expertise, assets or information to a wider community. Following the success of this initial installation, Astro Technology plans to conduct further testing and development at Johnson Space Center.

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