The satellite start-up Capella Space wants to open up the 60 billion dollar secret service market with new images

This video shows the reflector of the Capella-3 satellite using the boom as a “selfie stick”. The reflector is folded and compact when it reaches the room and expands into an object 3.5 meters in diameter.

Capella Space

The satellite imagery specialist Capella Space released the first images on Thursday taken from their two newest spaceships, which were launched in January.

The company is trying to develop part of an earth news market valued at $ 60 billion.

Capella’s business is based on combining a special type of picture with a small, inexpensive spaceship. The company is building a satellite network that can be used to take pictures of places on earth several times a day.

The images – known as synthetic aperture radar – enable Capella’s satellites to capture images at any time, including at night or through the cloud cover. The company plans to use its technology to break into some of the government-focused intelligence, surveillance and intelligence market, CEO Payam Banazadeh told CNBC.

He estimates this so-called intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance division accounts for two-thirds, or $ 40 billion, of the total earth news market.

“A third of that is [space-based] To date but what is happening now is a fast, really exponential growth in Earth observation and with capabilities like SAR, “Banazadeh said.

Capella, based in San Francisco, has raised around $ 100 million since its inception in 2016 and employs around 100 people. The company has three satellites in orbit and plans to launch four more by the end of the year.

Capella is not alone in the radar image market. Finnish start-up Iceye is also working on a satellite network, 10 of which have been put into orbit. And while Capella has the upper hand in the US-based government market, Iceye announced plans to expand from Finland and Poland with a new US satellite factory.

The SAR difference

An overview of Capella’s synthetic aperture radar satellites.

Capella Space

This spot image focuses on Russia’s largest submarine base, where several submarines docked in the frozen Avacha Bay can be seen.

Capella Space

According to Banazadeh, this imagery has several advantages over conventional optical imaging satellites such as those from Maxar Technologies or Planet Labs. For starters, it’s not blocked by clouds or darkness.

“You can have thousands of optical satellites, but you are only limited to 25% of the earth,” Banazadeh said. “We have access to the entire earth at any time.”

The Temple of Heaven is one of Beijing’s most important imperial temples, but it is also a popular tourist destination. The city’s smog often makes it difficult to reliably observe the earth, but high-resolution SAR brightly illuminates the city center and reveals the magnificent architecture of the circular temple complex (36 meters in diameter).

Capella Space

The other “big factor” is that the radar-based system “is a coherent active measurement system,” added Banazadeh.

This means that the radar signals sent by the satellites and reflected off the ground contain “hidden information” that contains properties of what is in the picture. The signal then comes back differently “based on the material, texture and moisture,” he said.

This nighttime SAR image shows the Rajpath, the large ceremonial boulevard in New Dehli that leads to India Gate. The reflected energy shows the arch of the monument as well as a large cluster of vehicles in front of the monument. This is an important place for analysts as both national parades and protests are held in the hexagonal park.

Capella Space

Capella’s satellites deliver images with a resolution of 50 centimeters – that is, each pixel in the image represents a piece of ground measuring 50 by 50 centimeters. A car that would be 4 by 2 meters would be shown with eight by four pixels.

The state market for radar images

Capella initially wanted to focus on commercial marketplaces such as the insurance, energy and agricultural sectors, but most of the market is dominated by the US government and its allies.

“The world’s largest geospatial customer is the US government,” said Banazadeh. “This is where the great opportunity lies in the short term and it’s a huge market [with] unsatisfied demand. “

In-Q-Tel, the CIA-funded venture capital company, was one of Capella’s first investors. On Thursday, the company announced an expanded partnership with In-Q-Tel, which Banazadeh said will result in Capella delivering “services and products through In-Q-Tel” to its customers.

You can have thousands of optical satellites, but you are only limited to 25% of the earth. We have access to the entire earth at all times.

Payam Banazadeh

CEO, Capella Space

Tom Gillespie, In-Q-Tel’s Managing Partner for Investments, said in a statement that the company is “excited about the capabilities that Capella’s latest systems offer”.

“We look forward to working with the company to help our government partners meet their continuing need for reliable and repeatable imagery despite inclement weather for applications such as disaster relief and land use in the environment,” said Gillespie.

Automated analysis

The other important aspect of Capella’s offering is the processing time for the images: From the time a customer requests an image, how long does it take for the company to take the photo and return the requested analyzes?

“I joke sometimes that some earth observation companies can do it faster [a customer] To hop on a plane, pay $ 4,000 for a business class flight over the place you want to see, literally look out the window, and then come back, “Banazadeh said.

“On average, we can get this data within about 20 minutes from the time it was actually collected,” he said.

Capella has partnered with Amazon AWS to store, process data, and even set up ground stations to return data from the satellites.

Capella expects to have collected around 10 petabytes of data from its satellites by the end of the year. For context, Banazadeh compared this to Facebook, which generates roughly four petabytes of data per day.

While Capella currently only records a fraction of this, Banazadeh expects his company to collect around 480 petabytes per year by 2025.

Amazon will then “scale with us,” he said, removing the need for Capella to build its own data processing services.

The growth strategy

Capella is vertically integrated – it designs and builds its own satellites, operates them in space and then connects to customers via its software platform and analyzes the data received.

Capella will continue to build and launch satellites as demand increases, he added.

“Our technology has been validated, our market has been validated, our product has been validated, we are generating revenue from assets we have in space – and so the next phase of the company is really growing and growing,” said Banazadeh.

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