Capella wins Air Force small business contract

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BREMEN, Germany – Capella Space won a U.S. Air Force contract to adapt its commercial synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for military applications.

Capella won the $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 2 contract for its presentation at Air Force Space Pitch Day, a competition in San Francisco in early November to identify commercial technology with potential Air Force applications. Prior to the event the Air Force awarded Capella a $50,000 SBIR Phase 1 contract.

“As the U.S. Air Force seeks to modernize its military with the most innovative commercial technology, we aim to close more Air Force contracts along with other U.S. government organizations,” Dan Brophy, Capella government services vice president, told SpaceNews by email.  “In addition to affirming Air Force interest in Capella’s persistent SAR service, SBIR Phase 2 contracts can transition capabilities to military end-users who can award SBIR Phase 3 contracts that are sole source, unlimited in contract value and with limited data rights (versus U.S. Government purpose rights). SBIR contracts offer a rapid path for integrating new dual use (commercial and government) capabilities into military applications.”

Capella plans to launch a constellation of 36 SAR satellites to provide frequently updated global imagery. Capella sent its first satellite into orbit in 2018. The San Francisco startup’s second satellite, Sequoia, is scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2020. Sequoia will “deliver 0.5 meter very high-resolution SAR data to the U.S. Air Force, as well as several additional international government and commercial customers,” Capella said in a Nov. 20 news release.

Under the U.S. Air Force SBIR Phase 2 contract, Capella will feed SAR data into Air Force “virtual reality software for the purpose of simulating potential adversary scenarios, support missile defense and create predictive intelligence that forsee foreign threats,” according to the news release.

Data for those simulations will come from Sequoia initially, and later from the firm’s Whitney constellation. Capella refers to its first six operational satellites after Sequoia as the Whitney constellation.