WASHINGTON — Capella Space has formed a new subsidiary, Capella Federal, focused on the defense market.

The company announced Jan. 31 it will offer “increased Earth observation access to select U.S. defense customers.”

Capella Space is a commercial operator of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellites. SAR is a specialized form of remote sensing that has seen growing demand since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because SAR satellites can capture images at night, through cloud cover and rain — conditions that impair traditional optical satellites.

Capella Federal will provide imagery exclusively to government customers and its analysts will work in classified facilities.

Eric Traupe, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and former assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was named head of Capella Federal. Traupe retired from the CIA in September and joined Capella earlier this month.

The company also announced new members of its government advisory board, including former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and retired Army lieutenant general Robert Ashley, and Clayton Hutmacher, former director of operations of U.S. Special Operation Command.

Existing board members include former deputy assistant decretary of defense for space policy Doug Loverro, former deputy undersecretary of defense Gil Klinger, and former NRO director Jeffrey Harris. 

Capella Space, which recently closed a $60 million funding round, has signed agreements with the National Reconnaissance Office, and has won contracts from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Space Force. 

The company wants to further expand its reach in the national security market. “With Capella’s technology, government agencies can gather data and images of Earth in any weather, any time of day or night,” said Capella Space CEO and founder Payam Banazadeh.

In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, “we’ve seen significant demand from our U.S. government customers to utilize Capella’s SAR capabilities,” said Banazadeh. 

Targeting ‘radar commercial layer’ contract

In an interview with SpaceNews, Traupe said the goal of Capella Federal is to position the company to “really cater to government clients in a more classified context, in a way that we weren’t able to do just as Capella Space.”

Traupe said he expects the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to start laying the groundwork for a potentially large procurement of commercial SAR imagery, or a “radar commercial layer,” the equivalent of the Electro-Optical Commercial Layer (EOCL) procurement where the NRO last year selected Maxar, Planet Labs and BlackSky to provide commercial optical imagery for the next 10 years. 

“The RCL is a key area of focus for us in 2023,” said Traupe. The NGA is currently analyzing the requirements in preparation for a solicitation planned for later this year, “and hopefully it’ll be awarded sometime in 2024,” he said. “So this is a golden opportunity for us.”

Most of the Capella Federal workforce is located in the Washington, D.C. area, “which affords us direct connectivity with government clients,” said Traupe. The company has secured “SCIF” office space, a term for U.S. government-accredited facilities for sharing of sensitive compartmented information.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...