Capella's third-generation synthetic aperture radar satellite, Acadia, is designed to obtain higher-resolution images with an improved signal-to-noise ratio compared with Capella's Whitney satellites. Credit: Capella Space

WASHINGTON — The co-founder of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging company Capella Space is stepping down as chief executive as the company seeks to grow its business, particularly with government customers.

Capella Space announced Oct. 17 that Payam Banazadeh would step down as chief executive effective Oct. 23, remaining on the company’s board of directors. He will be replaced by Frank Backes, senior vice president at Kratos Defense and Security Solutions.

Banazadeh said in a statement that the leadership change was part of efforts to expand the company’s business offering high-resolution SAR imagery after launching a series of SAR satellites. “Frank is a proven leader with a diverse background in software and hardware across both national security and commercial markets,” he said. “He understands our customers’ problems and challenges and is the perfect leader to further accelerate our growth by unlocking new opportunities.”

While the statement said that Capella is looking to expand its customer base for both government and commercial users, it suggested its focus was on government markets, including national security and intelligence. Backes led federal space and commercial cyber operations at Kratos for the last six years, and the statement noted his “deep understanding of the government and defense markets.”

Backes, in the statement, thanked Banazadeh for his “thoughtful, strategic guidance” of the company. “I am grateful for his leadership and look forward to working with him and the entire Capella Space team to take the company to new heights.”

The company has raised $250 million in venture capital to date, which includes a $60 million round announced in January. Capella Space has launched 12 satellites, although the most recent of those 12, the second in its new Acadia line of spacecraft, was lost in an Electron launch failure Sept. 19.

In a panel session at World Satellite Business Week Sept. 15, Banazadeh said the company planned to launch additional Acadia satellites “over the coming quarters,” although that schedule will depend on when Rocket Lab returns its Electron to flight. Some of those satellites will operate in mid-inclination orbits, which offers “new capabilities and new collection opportunities” for its customers.

Capella said in the statement that its revenue has grown by more than 180% annual since beginning commercial operations in 2021, but did not release revenue figures. Capella is one of seven companies selected by NASA for its Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program Oct. 2, making it eligible to compete for task orders worth up to $476 million over five years.

The company, like many other commercial satellite imaging companies, stands to benefit from a decision by the Commerce Department in August to remove many “Tier 3” restrictions on its commercial remote sensing license. The lifting of those conditions enables companies to provide higher-resolution imagery and other capabilities that previously had been restricted.

Banazadeh said at the conference in September that while he was “pretty excited” about the change, it was still too early to know how the end of the Tier 3 restrictions would affect its business. “It remains to be seen what that does to the market,” he said, because of limited experience with advanced SAR features that are now commercially available. “It will take a while before they realize the full power and the possibilities are.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...