Capella to supply U.S. Navy with airborne imagery

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SAN FRANCISCO — Capella Space announced a contract May 13 to provide airborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery and analytics services to the U.S. Navy.

Capella, a San Francisco startup focused on establishing a constellation of SAR satellites, is not planning to offer airborne imagery as a product line. Instead, the airborne campaign is “a stepping stone” in Capella’s campaign to deliver satellite imagery to the Navy, said Payam Banazadeh, Capella CEO and founder, told SpaceNews.

The new contract is Capella’s first with the U.S. Navy. Capella previously announced a U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research contract in November and a National Reconnaissance Office study contract in December.

Through airborne SAR campaigns, Capella is testing its radar, data processing and delivery services.

“Our first intention for collecting airborne data was to test out our own equipment and systems,” Banazadeh said. “It goes through the same processing pipeline as the satellite imagery, the same hardware, same software.”

As Capella shared imagery captured by its airborne platform, customers requested imagery of specific locations of interest.

Through airborne imagery “customers get early access to Capella data,” Banazadeh said. When the satellite imagery is available, it will flow into the same data pipeline, he added.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Capella planned to launch seven satellites in 2020. However, the pandemic has disrupted its supply chain and delayed some launches. As a result, some launches originally scheduled for 2020 are likely to occur in 2021, Banazadeh said.

Capella is cutting costs but has not conducted any “massive layoffs” related to COVID-19, Banazadeh said. Instead, the firm has cut costs “across the company.”

In some cases, Capella is still hiring. Dan Connors, former GeoEye vice president and deputy general counsel, is joining Capella this week, Banazadeh said.