Capella Space is an American space company. It is developing space-based radar Earth observation satellites equipped with synthetic-aperture radar that can penetrate clouds and work at night. Founded by Payam Banazadeh, a former engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, and William Walter Woods, the company is based in San Francisco, California. Capella was founded in 2016, has 75 employees and raised venture capital from investors such as Jerry Yang, Canaan Partners, Data Collective, and Spark Capital.
|Headquarters||San Francisco, California, United States|
|Payam Banazadeh (CEO)|
|Products||High-Resolution (sub-0.5m) SAR satellite|
Imagery and geospatial solutions
Capella plans to deploy a fleet of small radar satellites to provide regularly-updated imagery to the U.S. government and commercial customers. Capella is building and launching an initial block of seven "Whitney-class" satellites to provide high-resolution, radar imagery. Sequoia, the first of the group launched in August 2020. Two more Whitney satellites were launched on a SpaceX rideshare mission into a polar sun-synchronous orbit on 24 January 2021, and a further two are due to launch soon. After the seven Whitney-class satellites, Capella will assess demand to determine how many more satellites to launch.
In 2019, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) awarded Capella a contract to study the integration of Capella's commercial radar imagery with the NRO's government-owned surveillance satellites. The U.S. Air Force awarded Capella a contract in November 2019 to incorporate the company's imagery into the Air Force's virtual reality software. Capella also has a contract with the Navy, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), earlier in 2020 to allow researchers from the U.S. government's intelligence community to assist Capella. An inter-satellite link with Inmarsat's network of geostationary communications satellites will enable real-time tasking of Capella's satellites. Customers can use an electronic portal to task a Capella satellite for a radar image.
The Sequoia Earth-imaging satellite was originally supposed to launch as a secondary payload on the Indian rocket Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) in late 2019, but the mission was postponed, prompting Capella to move the satellite to a Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX, according to Payam Banazadeh. It was booked to fly as a rideshare passenger on the Falcon 9 launch with Argentina's SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite in late March 2020. But that launch was also delayed at the request of Argentine's space agency (CONAE) as travel and work restrictions were implemented at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That left Capella looking for another ride for Sequoia.
Capella had previously signed a contract with Rocket Lab for a dedicated launch for a future satellite, and Banazadeh said the company decided instead to put Sequoia on the Rocket Lab mission. Rocket Lab encountered delays after an Electron launch failed on 4 July 2020. Meanwhile, SAOCOM 1B launch preparations resumed and the Argentina satellite lifted off earlier on 30 August 2020 at 23:18:00 UTC, hours before the Rocket Lab mission with Sequoia, on 31 August 2020 at 03:05:47 UTC. The Electron launcher delivered Sequoia to a 525 km orbit, inclined 45.0°. Sequoia has a launch weight of 100 kg.
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