Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery provider Capella Space released new details on its production satellites in January, citing numerous enhancements made in response to customer feedback and information from its testbed satellite launched last year. The next six satellites will be able of delivering sub 0.5 meter imagery and be rapidly tasked.
“Our customers have spoken: today’s industry standard of waiting eight hours to receive data is woefully outdated. They want access to imagery that is reliable, timely and, most importantly, high-quality,” said Christian Lenz, vice president of engineering at Capella Space. “The innovations packed into our small satellite make Capella the first and only SAR provider to provide real-time tasking and capture of sub-0.5m very high-quality imagery anywhere on Earth at any time. This is a game-changer for a variety of industries — from monitoring military threats to assessing crop yields in agriculture to coordinating disaster response.”
New features rolled into the next six commercial satellites include a 3.5 meter deployed mesh-based antenna, enhanced solar array supporting imagery operations for 10 minutes per orbit, advanced thermal management to make up to 400 kilometer long strip images, large reaction wheels to quickly point the radar at diverse targets, a “staring spotlight image” mode to enhance image quality, average data downlink speeds of 1.2 Gbps, and the capability to real-time task through an encrypted two-way data link through Inmarsat.
The first of Capella’s new satellites is expected to launch in March 2020 onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Capella Space is licensed to launch 36 satellites. Among Capella’s announced customers include the United States Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office.
SAR imagery is in big demand for both national defense and commercial applications due to the ability to “see” through clouds and in darkness unlike traditional imaging solutions. Commodities companies are using SAR to keep track of oil levels in storage tanks and the movement of ships between ports. At 0.5 meter resolution, Capella Space should have the ability to tell the difference between cars and trucks and to count cars in a parking lot.
How is SpaceX’s Starlink satellites compared to Capella? Are they on the same playing field? Given the huge constellation of satellites that Starlink will deploy, will Capella be overshadowed?
Capella Space is doing radar imaging. SpaceX Starlink is for broadband communications.