Capella Space announced it will launch seven synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites and start commercial operations in 2020. At the beginning of December, the company quietly closed on $30 million in funding to secure launch slots and finish building its first set of satellites.
The newest generation of spacecraft represent a substantial upgrade in capabilities from Capella’s pathfinder satellite launched last year. “It’s an upgraded satellite, a bigger satellite around 100 kilograms,” said Capella Space CEO Payam Banazadeh. “We’ll put a press release out on the new design in late January.”
Changes from the original pathfinder satellite include a larger antenna and other subsystems to support higher-resolution radar imager in the 0.5 meter range and the incorporation of an Inmarsat terminal to provide real-time tasking for the satellite.
The addition of the Inmarsat terminal will substantially speed up time for imaging, Banazadeh said. A customer will be able to make a request for an image via Capella Space web portal. Once confirmed, the request will be directly sent to the appropriate satellite via an Inmarsat data link directly, instead of having to wait for a compiled task list to be broadcast up when the satellite passes over a ground station, a step that typically adds up to 8 hours of latency between request and actual image capture.
Once a SAR image is captured, it will be between 20 to 25 minutes to download the full raw image, with the satellite sending it down to the Amazon Web Services Ground Station network. However, the Inmarsat terminal may also allow for some sort of compressed imagery to be sent back in near-real time prior to allow users to get access to some information prior to the raw data arriving.
Over the last 12 months, Capella Space has found the current market for SAR imagery to be in the government, defense, and national security sector, with “excitement” in the commercial market with the availability of sub-meter imagery/ Ease of use, automated tasking, and operations are all features to complement Capella’s ability to delivery sub-meter imagery while reducing latency compared to other SAR options. Banazadeh says that the combination of high-resolution and lower latency means Capella should be able to be more efficient with fewer satellites than a larger SAR constellation that can’t provide imagery as quickly.
Capella Space’s first production satellite will be launched In March onboard a SpaceX rideshare mission to sun-synchronous orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base with a batch of 3 more slated for a June PSLV launch in India. The last 3 will be launched in the second half of 2020 with Capella still evaluating options between larger rideshare and a dedicated Rocket Lab Electron mission.