Capella Space: Eyes in the Sky

How Capella Space is making Earth observation data accessible to everyone.

View from space of Earth
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3 min

To make vital information about our planet more accessible and reliable than ever before, Capella Space is leveraging proven technologies in ways that are entirely new—building constellations of SAR satellites that can bring governments and businesses the latest information about any spot on the planet within the hour.

Capella’s high revisit SAR satellites capture high quality Earth imagery with resolution down to 0.5 meter. SAR stands for Synthetic Aperture Radar. NASA has been using it since the 1970s to detect sub-meter changes to the Earth’s surface—stunningly through clouds, smoke, fog and darkness. Capella Space is now taking SAR a step further, enabling hourly SAR global coverage for government and commerce.

A number of Alumni Ventures Group funds have invested in Capella Space, including Spike VenturesCastor VenturesBlue Ivy VenturesCongress Avenue Ventures, and Strawberry Creek Ventures. Most recently, we participated in the company’s 2019 Series B financing round.

Propelled by a Problem

Before co-founding Capella Space, CEO Payam Banazadeh worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab as an aerospace engineer. His work on two NASA missions was even honored with their Mariner Award. When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in 2014, he found himself wondering why current satellite technology couldn’t solve the mystery. Banazadeh dug into the issue and realized there was a huge deficiency in our ability to monitor the planet from space. He decided to launch Capella Space in 2016 with co-founder William Woods in order to develop a more powerful satellite in a smaller package.

Small Payload, Big Impact

When it comes to monitoring the Earth’s surface, traditional optical imagery satellites can come up short. In particular, they are limited by light and cloud-cover, meaning that getting accurate data can be extremely limited under adverse or even cloudy weather conditions, or at night. Capella’s Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) micro-satellites, operated on the X-band, can see through clouds and in the dark.

>> See Capella CEO Payam Banazadeh’s eCorner talk at Stanford University.

Capella micro-satellites are built and launched for a fraction of the cost of large satellites. They leverage the less expensive and more efficient rockets being developed by SpaceX and other new orbital deployment start-ups. Once in orbit, the satellites unfold commercial-grade, high resolution radar antenna from a payload the size of backpack. The investment teams were intrigued that Payam and his team use traditional origami techniques to fold and unfurl the antennas and solar arrays.

When fully deployed, the Capella satellite constellation will be optimized for maximum global coverage and revisit times that never exceed one hour. The network will be able to capture millimeter scale changes in the Earth’s surface following a natural disaster, independent of time, place, or conditions. Capella can even measure tank level changes for gas, oil, water and other strategic/valuable liquids. The first satellite in the newest batch, named Sequoia, is set to head into orbit on board a SpaceX rocket in March 2020.

Shooting for the Stars

Capella Space gets its name from Capella, a binary star that is the brightest yellow star in the sky. Also known as Alpha Aurigae, the star represents the goat in Greek mythology whose broken horn became the cornucopia, a horn of plenty which could be filled with anything its owner wished for – much like Capella Space hopes that applying Earth observation data will help its clients. From infrastructure monitoring, to conservation management, to disaster response and recovery, the potential impact of Capella’s services is enormous. The company continues to pursue growth initiatives, including building a searchable archive in the cloud to make information about Earth widely available.

Access to accurate information is key to making sound decisions for the future, and Capella Space is making this possible for anyone interested in managing both short- and long-term risk . We’re excited to support their mission to make timely Earth observation an essential tool for commerce, conservation, and well-being.

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