Umbra CEO David Langan inspects an Umbra satellite antenna. Credit: Umbra

SAN FRANCISCO – Earth observation startup Umbra raised $32 million in an investment round led by the family office venture fund of Passport Capital founder John Burbank with participation from existing Umbra investors including CrossCut Ventures, Starbridge Ventures, Hemisphere Ventures and PonValley.

Umbra, based in Santa Barbara, California and previously known as Umbra Lab, is preparing to launch its first microsatellite this year to provide Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery with a resolution of better than 25 centimeters.

“Umbra has agreements to deliver data to the United States government and commercial geospatial intelligence firms,” according to a Jan. 31 news release. Umbra has not announced contract awards. However, AFWERX, the Air Force organization focused on spurring innovation, lists Umbra as a Small Business Innovation Research awardee.

Umbra was established in 2015 based on a contract awarded by a U.S. prime aerospace and defense company that Umbra declines to name.

Because of that early backing from a prime contractor, Umbra had “an advantage with the United States government and primes, ultimately allowing us to win important contracts critical to future space architectures,” Umbra CEO David Langan said in a statement.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded Umbra a license in 2018 to sell 25-centimeter resolution imagery commercially from a satellite constellation in 515-kilometer circular sun synchronous orbit.

Umbra announced Jan. 9 that it was granted a patent for an antenna designed to stow compactly for launch and expand in orbit with a series of ribs attached to a central hub covered in a flexible reflective material.

Many companies are building SAR microsatellites to provide imagery and data during the day, at night and through clouds.

Umbra seeks to reduce the cost of SAR data by bringing prices in line with those of electro-optical imagery.

“When we embarked on the commercial business it was clear – Umbra needed to invent something new to create value for our customers,” Umbra Co-Founder Gabe Dominocielo said in a statement. “Our proprietary technology improves satellite performance, data quality and can collect many areas of interest in high resolution, which allows us to offer lower prices.”

Umbra plans to offer customers free satellite tasking and direct satellite access.

Umbra is building multiple satellites and preparing to expand its 45-person staff. The company has posted job openings in engineering, product, software, operations and marketing in its Santa Barbara and Austin, Texas facilities.

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...