Aerospace engineer-turned-entrepreneur creates SAR satellites that see through 'cloudy' Ukrainian skies

A talk at CES 2023 revealed that the military, amongst others, is eager to get 'radar' data, which can practically see through anything.
Sade Agard
Capella Space Satellite
Capella Space Satellite

Capella Space 

A conversation at the Consumers Electronics Show (CES) 2023 titled 'Investing in Space' revealed some of the most exciting new technologies in space- an industry poised to reach new heights in the upcoming years.

Whether in terms of enhancing remote rural connectivity or our direct observational awareness of the environment, space tech developments promise to expand the scope and breadth of impacts on Earth significantly.

Included on the panel of investors and startups was Payam Banazadeh, an aerospace engineer by training who has worked at NASA. Deciding to get into the business side of things, he is now the founder and CEO of Capella Space- a company that commercially supplies high-quality data from Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR).

Radar technology works like bats at night

"Capella Space is an Earth observation company. We are operating a constellation of satellites in space that bring unique imaging called synthetic aperture radar or, for short, SAR," explained Banazadeh.

"We design and manufacture our satellites, pretty much all in-house. We then give it to the rocket companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab to launch it for us."

He added that Capella Space gives its clients access to their SAR satellites, enabling them to keep an eye on any location on the planet they desire.

"The unique thing about our centers is that we can see practically at any time, with no limitation," he said. "We can do imaging daytime, we can do imaging nighttime, we can do imaging through the clouds when it's stormy through the fog through the haze," he said. 

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Interesting Engineering (IE) gathered that companies like Capella Space are highly sought after as they can produce radar data that works in any weather. Essentially, SAR satellites create radar pictures by mapping the Earth like how bats travel at night. That is, by emitting radio waves and detecting the return of those waves.

'The Russians aren't going to move the tanks in the daytime'

Aerospace engineer-turned-entrepreneur creates SAR satellites that see through 'cloudy' Ukrainian skies
Capella collecting data at the Ukrainian border

As such, the data can be sold to help inform land planning and critical infrastructure monitoring. Better yet, it could also help with critical decisions involving disaster relief. In fact, since its radar can get through cloudy Ukrainian skies and other weather obstacles, Capella is providing satellite imagery to the Ukrainian and US governments.

"We badly need the opportunity to watch the movement of Russian troops, especially at night when our technologies are blind," said Ukraine's vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov in a letter posted on Twitter.

To meet the increasing customer demand for its radar-powered satellite imagery, Capella Space has raised about $239 million to date.

The operating partner of one of its investors, Matt O' Conell from DCVC, was also present on the CES panel. He commented, "I think we're all very proud of the work they've done in Ukraine, keeping tabs on what Russia is doing."

"The Russians aren't going to move the tanks in the daytime, people can see them. So [with SAR] there's a terrific advantage," he added.

Capella now has SAR sensors onboard seven of its satellites in orbit and has more satellites prepared for launch in 2023.