Capella Space Unveils Next-Generation Earth Observation Satellite Design

Capella Space to offer on-demand sub-0.5 meter SAR imaging.
Image credit: Capella Space

Editors note: This article was previously titled, “Capella Space Unveils Next-Generation Spy Satellite Design”. Although Capella Space has won contacts to supply imaging to the United States Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the satellite will also be used for a broad range of civilian applications. As a result, the use of the term “Spy Satellite” was a mischaracterisation.

Commercial imaging startup Capella Space has unveiled it’s next-generation Earth observation satellite design. The new design will enable the company to provide on-demand sub-0-5 meter SAR imaging in just 30 minutes, a capability that sets it apart from the competition.

In a January 21 press release, Capella Space revealed the design of its next-generation Earth observation satellite. The satellite will offer sub-0.5 meter SAR (synthetic aperture radar) imaging with an on-orbit duty cycle of as much as 10 minutes per orbit. This allows it to capture imaging that will allow users to detect any object bigger than a half meter, and identify any object larger than 1.5 meters through a wide range of conditions including cloud cover.

The 100-kilogram imaging satellite is relatively small for its purported capability. The company achieves this by utilizing a 3.5-meter deployable antenna design reminiscent of the Northrop Grumman AstroMesh antenna. In combination with a downlink payload capable of speeds of up to 1.2 Gbps, the satellite becomes a highly capable imaging platform.

Capella Space hopes to launch a constellation of 36 of these satellites over the next three years. Once complete, the system will offer near real-time tasking and the ability to deliver data to customers in less than 30 minutes. This is reportedly significantly faster than the company’s competition who typically average between eight and 12 hours.

“Our customers have spoken: today’s industry standard of waiting eight hours to receive data is woefully outdated. They want access to imagery that is reliable, timely and, most importantly, high-quality,” said Christian Lenz, vice president of engineering at Capella Space. “The innovations packed into our small satellite make Capella the first and only SAR provider to provide real-time tasking and capture of sub-0.5m very high-quality imagery anywhere on Earth at any time.

The first of the company’s next-generation satellites, nicknamed “Sequoia” will be launched aboard a Falcon 9 in March 2020. An additional three will be launched aboard an ISRO PSLV rocket later this year. Capella Space expects to launch between six and twelve satellites a year and plans to complete the 36-satellite constellation by no later than 2023.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.