Rocket Lab to send Capella radar satellite to mid-inclination orbit

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SAN FRANCISCO – Capella Space will send a  Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite into a mid-inclination orbit later this year on a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle, the two companies announced March 5.

“It will be the first commercial SAR satellite in a mid-inclination orbit,” Payam Banazadeh, Capella Space CEO, told SpaceNews. “Customers want to monitor areas around Korea, the Middle East, some portions of Europe and North America. Putting a satellite in a 45-degree-inclination orbit allows you to have good coverage of those areas.”

San Francisco-based Capella plans to launch its first seven operational satellites in 2020. The first, called Sequoia, is scheduled to launch into sun synchronous orbit in late March alongside Saocom 1B, an Argentine L-band SAR satellite, on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. Capella’s Electron launch will occur sometime in mid-2020, Banazadeh said.

Capella has not yet announced launch contracts for five additional satellites in its Whitney constellation. Those satellites are under construction at the firm’s Boulder, Colorado, facility.

Initially, Capella planned to cluster satellites in polar orbit.

“As we have talked to more customers, we’ve realized a hybrid constellation with some satellites in mid-inclination orbit and others in polar orbit will solve a lot of interesting problems,” Banazadeh said. The launch contract announced today “will most likely be one of many mid-inclination launches we will do with Rocket Lab and others,” he added.

Capella and Rocket Lab did not disclose the cost of the dedicated launch but it is certain to be significantly higher than the cost of a rideshare mission.

“There is a premium for a dedicated launch but there is also a premium for time, for going exactly when you need to go, as well as where you need to go,” Banazadeh said. “At this point we valued being a primary and picking those parameters for this launch.”

Capella’s 100-kilogram SAR satellite will be the primary payload on the Electron launch.

“Our dedicated launch solution will get Capella Space on orbit faster, enabling them to focus on their core mission – providing reliable, up to the hour imagery data to inform everyday decisions down here on Earth,” Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, said in a statement. “By launching on Electron, the team at Capella is in control of their mission every step of the way. The ability to book a launch quickly, have control over launch timing and select an exact orbit puts customers like Capella in the driver’s seat as they build out their constellations how and when they want to.”