ESA sends crude oil to space to test Earth’s underground reservoirs

© Stringer
The European Space Agency has partnered with Chinese and French oil giants to launch containers of highly pressurised crude oil into space. The experimental cargo needed to study deep underground oil wells blasted into orbit on China’s SJ-10 satellite.

Scientists are hoping the mission will deepen their knowledge and understanding of crude oil reservoirs located 8 kilometers underground in order to make it possible to tap into untouched reserves.

The experiment will measure how “hydrocarbon molecules redistribute when the temperature is not uniform.”

“Imagine a packet of cornflakes – over time the smaller flakes drop to the bottom under gravity. On a molecular scale this experiment is doing something similar but then looking at how temperature causes fluids to rearrange in weightlessness,” explained ESA’s Olivier Minster.

The lift off from China’s Jiuquan site in the Gobi desert occurred on Wednesday at 1:30 am local time, as a partnership between the ESA, China’s National Space Science Centre, France’s Total oil company, and China’s PetroChina oil company.

The crude oil sits on board the satellite lab in six small titanium cylinders built to withstand more than double 1000 times atmospheric pressure.

According to the ESA, the oil in each container is already compressed up to 500 times normal pressure at sea level on Earth.

It will spend almost two weeks in orbit before returning to Earth, where a team of researchers will analyze the results of the experiment.