WASHINGTON — Maxar has signed a contract with satellite imagery startup Umbra to get dedicated access to the company’s radar imaging constellation, the companies announced Feb. 14.

The partnership will allow Maxar to directly task Umbra’s satellites and integrate synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data into its portfolio of Earth intelligence products and services, Tony Frazier, head of Maxar’s public sector Earth intelligence, told SpaceNews.

SAR is a specialized form of remote sensing that has been in growing demand since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. SAR satellites can capture images at night, through cloud cover, smoke and rain — conditions that impair traditional optical satellites like those operated by Maxar. 

Maxar has agreements with third-party SAR providers, including Capella Space and Iceye, but it chose Umbra for a dedicated partnership because the company’s high-resolution SAR better complements Maxar’s high-resolution optical imagery, Frazier said. 

“Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, we’ve seen a high demand for multi source capabilities,” he said. “And especially a demand for integrating high resolution SAR with our optical capabilities.”

Combined optical-SAR products will be available in the second quarter of 2023 and will be fully integrated by 2024, Frazier said. The agreement with Umbra is non-exclusive and expected to extend over several years, he said. “We will be able to task their satellites and get the data to our customers on rapid timelines.” 

Umbra, based in Santa Barbara, California, has five satellites in orbit. Under the contract, Maxar will have assured access to the next two, satellites six and seven. Umbra said it plans to launch a total of 24 satellites. 

Headquartered in Westminster, Colorado, Maxar operates four high-resolution imaging satellites and is the primary supplier of commercial satellite imagery to the U.S. government. The company was recently acquired by a private equity firm and is preparing to launch the first two of six planned WorldView Legion high-resolution optical imaging satellites.

David Langan, Umbra’s co-founder and CEO, said his company is “thrilled to partner with Maxar and to be chosen as their first ever SAR dedicated access partner.”

The agreement will “energize commercial SAR utilization worldwide and support Umbra’s ambitions of building and growing a robust commercial business case,” said Gabe Dominocielo, Umbra’s co-founder and president. 

Umbra in the future plans to offer radio frequency (RF) sensing, and will use its SAR satellites to passively scan for RF activity.

Frazier said the companies are “having conversations about ways to integrate future capabilities, and we do see a lot of opportunity to look at multiple sources of data.”

Intelligence agencies and military commands increasingly require multi-source intelligence to track developments and trends in different regions of the world, he said, and “they need the data regardless of whether it’s sunny or cloudy over a location.”

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...