Capella Space's Whitney constellation will feature circular, 3.5-meter aperture deployed mesh-based reflector antennas rather than a smaller rectangular antenna like the one on Denali, the firm's technology demonstration satellite launched in late 2018. Credit: Capella

SAN FRANCISCO – Capella Space, a San Francisco startup preparing to operate a constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, announced a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement June 25 with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

The agreement “formalizes the relationship between Capella and NGA,” Payam Banazadeh, Capella CEO and founder, told SpaceNews. “We can start engaging on some research that’s going to be mutually interesting to the two parties.”

The NGA has established relationships with commercial geospatial data providers in recent years to help satisfy growing demand for timely and frequently updated imagery and data from U.S. defense and intelligence agencies. NGA establishes requirements for commercial satellite imagery, which the National Reconnaissance Office procures.

Capella is the first U.S. commercial SAR satellite company to announce a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with NGA.

“This is an exciting partnership that has the potential to yield new intelligence opportunities,” Jarrett Adrian, NGA’s principal investigator for the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, said in a statement. “Capella’s high temporal resolution SAR imagery will give intelligence professionals key insight and strategic advantage.”

Capella launched its first satellite, a technology demonstration, in 2018. Since then, the company doubled the size of its satellites and redesigned the reflector antenna for its Whitney constellation of seven satellites scheduled to begin launching this year on rockets flown by Rocket Lab, SpaceX and others, Banazadeh said.

Because Capella is building SAR satellites in-house, “there’s quite bit of flexibility to think through a customer problem” and modify satellite components, if necessary, to solve it, Banazadeh said.

“It’s an integrated solution you have to come up with for these problems,” he added. “Because we control the process end-to-end, the sooner we have those inputs, the sooner we can go back and tweak and change and edit and optimize things for the customer.”

NGA is not the first U.S. government agency to work with Capella. The company signed a contract with the National Reconnaissance Office in December and with the U.S. Navy in May.

Although some of the government contracts are small, they help Capella and the agencies get to know each other.

“The key for us has been making sure that we can understand the customers really well,” Banazadeh said.

The agreement with NGA, for example, allows Capella to but the key for us has been making sure that we can understand the customers really well “tell them what we are doing in a more formal way,” Banazadeh said. “And in return, we can have a frank conversation about requirements and get a better sense of how we can modify our product line to meet them.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...