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 unveiled the new design Jan. 21 for its Whitney constellation of seven synthetic aperture radar satellites scheduled to launch in 2020.

Weighing in at 100 kilograms, the new satellites are about twice the size of Denali, Capella’s 48-kilogram technology demonstration spacecraft launched in December 2018.

“We spent a lot of time talking to key customers and end users and the message we received was very clear,” Christian Lenz, Capella vice president of engineering, told SpaceNews. “A high-performance, low-latency, excellent user experience system was needed.”

To achieve that vision, Capella made significant changes to the Denali design. The firm doubled the size of solar arrays, added a second star tracker, opted for larger reaction wheels and redesigned the reflector antenna for its Whitney constellation. Capella’s new 3.5-meter aperture deployed mesh-based reflector antenna is designed to deliver high-contrast, low-noise imagery with resolution better than 50 centimeters.

“Implementing all of these improvements, however, did require making difficult choices,” Payam Banazadeh, Capella founder and CEO, said in a Jan. 21 blog. “We delayed commencement of service by eight months to complete and validate Sequoia’s evolved design.”

In addition to redesigning satellites, Capella worked on streamlining processes for accepting orders, tasking satellites and delivering imagery.

Capella customers will request imagery electronically. The firm will then uplink requests to its constellation through Inmarsat communications satellites. On the back end, Capella will rely on Amazon Web Services and Amazon Ground Stations to reduce the time it takes to get imagery and data from the satellite to the ground, process it and get it to the user, Lenz said.

Sequoia, Capella’s first operational satellite, is scheduled to launch in late March on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket alongside Argentina’s Saocom-1B synthetic aperture radar satellite. Capella plans to launch three additional radar satellites in mid-2020 and three more by the end of the year, Lenz said.

Capella customers include the U.S. Air Force, which awarded the firm a contract in November after Space Pitch Day, and the National Reconnaissance Office, which awarded the firm a study contract in December.

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...