Umbra Lab patent application reveals unique antenna design

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SAN FRANCISCO – The patent application for Umbra Lab’s antenna is now public, revealing how the startup intends to deploy a large synthetic aperture radar (SAR) reflector on a microsatellite.

The patent published online in March, shows a reflector designed to stow compactly for launch. In orbit, a series of ribs attached to the central hub open to deploy a reflector covered in a flexible reflective material with a diameter of about four meters.

“We invented a novel way to fold a parabolic mesh antenna larger than 10 square meters to make it fit in a microsatellite,” said Umbra co-founder Gabe Dominocielo.

David Langan, Umbra co-founder and CEO, added by email, “In order to launch the world’s only microsatellite capable of high resolution it was pretty clear we had to invent something new.” (By high resolution, Langan said he is referring to sensors capable of producing images with a resolution of 25 centimeters in both azimuth and range.)

Umbra Lab plans to launch a constellation of SAR microsatellites to capture imagery with a resolution of 25 centimeters. The startup based in Santa Barbara, California, is preparing to send its first spacecraft into orbit this year, although it has not announced a launch contract.

Since emerging from stealth mode in 2019, Umbra has expanded its staff and facilities. Umbra currently employs 23 people.

Umbra plans to expand its current 929-square-meter facility to cover 2,137-square-meters with a laboratory large enough to manufacture dozens of antennas at a time, Dominocielo said.

Work at Umbra continues in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately one-third of Umbra employees travel to the facility daily. Other employees work from home.

Umbra plans to sell SAR imagery for prices comparable to that of electro-optical imagery.

“We believe the market is elastic,” Dominocielo said. The availability of “low-cost, high-quality products will create a large change in the market,” he said.