Capella Space is now capable of producing high resolution radar images of the Earth’s surface, and the company, which has raised $100 million in venture capital, is ready to go to market.
On August 31 of this year, a Rocket Lab Proton rocket launched from the company’s New Zealand launch site. On board was Capella-2, the second satellite that San Francisco-based Capella Space has placed into orbit. Over the next few weeks, the company made its satellite operational and has now released some of its first images.
What look like high resolution, black and white photos at first glance are, in fact, high resolution radar images. They’re collected using a technique called synthetic aperture radar (SAR), in which the satellite uses its flight path to simulate a giant radar antenna, which enables images of the Earth’s surface to be taken.
These images represent a major milestone for the startup. This satellite, which includes a lot of upgrades from the company’s first test satellite, launched in 2018. “Through that process, we learned a lot about improving processes internally to be more efficient and make sure things aren’t missed,” says Capella cofounder and CEO Payam Banazadeh, who along with cofounder William Woods is an alumnus of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
SAR images are a fast-growing part of the Earth observation market, and it’s “ultra-competitive,” Chris Quilty, an analyst at Quilty Analytics says in an email. Which means the release of these images are a big deal for the company. “Capella’s demonstration of very high resolution SAR imagery from a smallsat platform is an important milestone for Capella from both a technical and fundraising perspective,” he says.
That’s because there are already big players in this area, including traditional aerospace players like Airbus, as well as other startups like Finnish-based Iceye. “It was critical for Capella to quickly demonstrate the capabilities of its Capella-2 satellite to the market,” says Quilty. What remains to be seen, he says, is what technological capabilities will become more attractive to customers.
With its second satellite operational, Capella can now begin to offer data products to the market, says Banazadeh. The company’s business model is “data as a service” – with customers purchasing images. Capella is also actively developing analytics products to offer to more customers down the line. However, it’s primarily focused on government customers at the start, and those customers are more interested in raw data than analytics, he adds.
Up next for the company are adding satellites to its constellation, which are currently planned to be launched via a SpaceX rocket next month. These two satellites, Capella-3 and Capella-4 will be in different orbits than Capella-2, which will enable the company to cover more of the Earth’s surface. More satellites are due to follow.
With this new milestone hit, Banazadeh is confident about his company’s ability to move forward and capitalize on its vision. “This has been the most exciting three months of our journey after founding Capella only four years ago,” he wrote in a blog post. “We made history with this launch as the first and only American commercial SAR company and we have a lot more history-making announcements coming soon.”