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Capella Space poised for commercial SAR operations in 2020

Sequoia-quality image of aircraft at an airport. Image resolution is 0.5 m.

With the advancement of innovations in satellite technology, VHR SAR imagery, and on-demand, real-time earth observation data, 2020 will be a momentous year for Capella, its customers, and the commercial space industry.

At the beginning of 2019, Capella Space received the GeoBuiz award for the “most promising startup.” A year after launching its first satellite, Denali, Capella Space is now poised to start operational services in 2020.

The Capella Space constellation of 36 satellites will be placed in 12 orbital planes to provide hourly revisit observations. All satellite operations, from scheduling to product delivery, will be autonomous, and the constellation schedule constantly updated to support on-demand acquisition requests. In addition, each satellite will be operated under orbit control conditions that meet the needs of good quality interferometric SAR data, with an interferometric repeat time as short as 4 hours.

On December 3, 2018, Capella Space successfully launched a pathfinder satellite, Denali, whose goal was to validate and then improve autonomous satellite operations. Today, Denali operates autonomously, with human intervention occurring only for iterating, deploying and testing new features. This level of autonomous operation is key to operating a large constellation.

Capella recently entered into an agreement with the leading global mobile satellite communications provider, Inmarsat, and leading one-stop digital, wireless and broadband communications technology products innovator, Addvalue. The partnership gives Capella a significant market lead as the only Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) provider with real-time tasking capability and positions Capella as the only SAR operator capable of real-time responsiveness. This constant contact with the fleet via Inmarsat’s network of communications satellites will reduce the time it takes to order and deliver Very High Resolution (VHR) Earth imagery from hours to minutes.

With the next Capella satellite, Sequoia, the new real-time tasking, and responsiveness capabilities will be demonstrated. Capella will launch Sequoia in the first quarter of 2020, and evaluation and pilot projects with partners are being scheduled for the second and third quarters of 2020. Sequoia will be deployed into a polar sun-synchronous orbit by a PSLV launcher from India. The miniaturized SAR sensor that will fly on Sequoia is a significant upgrade from the radar tested on Denali, and it has been successfully tested on an aircraft (see image).

These airborne campaigns have validated the success of our design innovations and demonstrated the high quality of the Capella SAR sensor. The collected VHR SAR data (0.5 m resolution and better), corrected to on-orbit conditions, have an excellent image interpretability rating, with evaluations using the Radar National Imagery Interpretability Rating Scale (RNIIRS). RNIIRS provides a systematic approach for measuring the quality of imagery, the performance of image capture devices, and the effects of image processing algorithms. Unlike in electro-optical imagery, the driver for the rating level in SAR is not primarily spatial resolution, but rather a complex mix of spatial resolution, normalized radar cross-section (NRCS), and level of multi-looking. The Capella SAR system will be capable of providing high spatial resolution with unprecedented radiometric resolution.

In preparation for new applications that can be enabled by an hourly revisit capability, Capella has collected a SAR data stack over a highly-dynamic area at hourly intervals. Patterns of life and associated dynamics can be traced through change analytics, and then visualized and quantified with this novel technique. The data stack is based on airborne data collects adjusted to the future Capella SAR satellite capabilities.

Capella has begun inviting select SAR users to explore the benefits of hourly monitoring with the VHR SAR data stack. In exchange for feedback and information sharing, members of this user community will have free access to explore different applications to solve some of our world’s greatest problems—from natural disaster response and city planning to illegal fishing. Along with the user community, a partnership with SpaceNet, a non-profit focused on geospatial applications for Artificial Intelligence, will broaden the adoption of SAR. Capella will officially launch the user community program in January 2020, and academics, public, and private organizations are encouraged to join once it is announced.

In addition to the upcoming launch of the Sequoia satellite, Capella has initiated the Whitney program through which the Capella SAR constellation will be expanded by 6 additional satellites in 2020. As Capella advances to the start of commercial operations in 2020, the company will reveal how it is modernizing the process of ordering and delivering satellite imagery. A sophisticated web application will enable customers to instantly log and verify satellite tasking requests, that will then be forwarded through the network to the next available satellite. The satellite will maneuver to complete the task and return the image and data to the ground station network within minutes of it being captured.

With the advancement of Capella’s innovations in satellite technology, VHR SAR imagery, and on-demand, real-time earth observation data, 2020 will be a momentous year for Capella, its customers, and the commercial space industry. We invite you to stay informed and learn more at www.capellaspace.com.