Capella Space Corporation

Testing the First Commercial U.S. SAR Satellite

Inspired by missing Malaysia flight #370, the first and only commercial U.S. SAR satellite will be launched to test new technology used to monitor valuable planetary assets

Following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014, Capella Space co-founder Payam Banazadeh was confused and distraught. Search efforts by leading nations, including the United States, China, United Kingdom and France, all led to dead ends – the aircraft could not be found.

“How could a plane simply go missing on the one planet we call home?” said Banazadeh. He knew there had to be a better way to monitor our planet from space, so in 2015 he co-founded Capella Space to ensure nothing on Earth will go undetected.

Today, Capella Space is revolutionizing the satellite imaging industry by testing the first and only commercial U.S. synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellite, which will be launched via Spaceflight’s dedicated rideshare mission, SSO-A: SmallSat Express. Traditional imaging satellites and terrestrial monitoring vehicles are often inhibited by visual barriers such as clouds or the night sky, limiting their reliability. However, SAR satellites eliminate those challenges with the ability to see in all light and weather conditions 100 percent of the time, making them perfect for frequent and reliable Earth imaging.

SAR satellite technology has revolutionized the way the world is observed; however, commercial use has been fairly restricted in the U.S. due to regulatory objections. Many other countries already utilize this technology for commercial use, including Germany, Italy and Korea, and now that regulatory objections have been lifted, the U.S. commercial sector has an opportunity to develop SAR satellite technology. This is a milestone that Capella Space is thrilled to achieve.

Denali – One of a Kind

Capella Space’s SAR satellite, named Denali after the tallest mountain in the U.S., is poised to improve the utilization of SAR satellites as a whole. Current SAR satellites are nearly the size of a bus – almost 1000kg, and far too expensive for commercial use. Capella Space was able to reduce the size of the satellites by a factor of 30, constructing a satellite that weighs just 35kg. The smaller satellite brings down launch costs, making commercial SAR satellite use more affordable for all. Capella’s team was able to achieve this feat by building most of the pieces in-house, from scratch.

This mission will allow Capella Space to test the technology used on Denali in space to ensure it delivers clear, reliable, high-resolution images. This trial will enable Capella Space’s engineers to understand what aspects of the satellite worked well, and what elements need to be improved for future satellites.

Future Impact

Eventually, the company plans to build a constellation of 36 satellites to increase revisit rates and better monitor assets. In mid-2019, Capella Space plans to launch their second SAR Satellite, named Sequoia. This satellite will improve upon Denali and be the first to provide imagery to the company’s customers.

Following Sequoia, Capella Space will scale quickly to launch another six satellites, then 12 satellites, until they reach their goal of a 36-satellite constellation.

The company plans to deliver hourly imagery as quick as possible to fulfill existing contracts with organizations such as the U.S. Department of Defense. By 2020 it plans to provide six-hour revisit rates and with more satellites on orbit, the revisit rate will quickly decrease to one hour.

Experience with Spaceflight

Spaceflight’s rideshare offerings are ideal for organizations like Capella Space, which has a small satellite that does not require an entire launch vehicle. Banazadeh and other Capella Space employees have enjoyed working with Spaceflight to facilitate the launch of Denali.

“Spaceflight understands the problems that small businesses go through when there are launch delays,” said Banazadeh. He appreciates the flexibility Spaceflight offers in moving customers between different launch providers and vehicles, as he is eager to launch Denali and future satellites into space and, begin fulfilling customer contracts.

Capella Space plans to launch another satellite with Spaceflight as they continue to test and improve their SAR satellites. Once Capella Space’s milestones are achieved, customers will be able to monitor valuable assets reliably, affordably, and without visual limitations. Banazadeh’s mission is to ensure that “no one will be told that they cannot have an image because it is too cloudy, or too dark.”

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