The two-year-old San Francisco startup describes itself as an aerospace and information services company providing on-demand Earth observation data via advanced space radar. Prior to this financing, which also included participation from Argentina’s Mark VC and Harmony Partners, it raised $14.9 million in a May 2017 Series A round.
The company’s radar-powered satellites work at night, can see through clouds, and operate under any weather condition by bouncing microwave pulses off targets and measuring the reflected energy.
“These satellites have been around for quite a while, but historically, they’ve been the size of a school bus,” CEO and co-founder Payam Banazadeh told Crunchbase News. “We’ve miniaturized them to something very small—the size of a backpack—that allows for lower cost and the ability to monitor places around on an hourly basis instead of daily or every other day.”
Traditionally, the satellites have mainly been used for defense and intelligence applications by governments, weigh more than 1,000 kilograms, and cost half a billion to $1 billion each, said Banazadeh. But Capella plans to expand the capability to the commercial arena with satellites that weigh only 37 kilograms and cost “in the very low, single-digit millions” range.
Capella claims its satellites can also detect and track changes in the position of metal objects, from small North Korean smuggling freighters to bridges that an insurer is being asked to underwrite. Capella’s technology can also penetrate the ground to see hidden assets, such as water for irrigation, and otherwise undetectable problems, such as leaky underground pipes in chemical plants, according to the company.
Capella’s first prototype satellite is going up in mid-November. A second prototype is scheduled to go up in June 2019.
“We’re testing all of our technologies on that first satellite,” Banazadeh said. “With the second one, we will start commercializing and giving imagery to lots of customers. We’ll also be kickstarting the process of preparing the company to mass manufacture the satellites.”
Ultimately, the company wants to put up 36 satellites around the world.
“To get hourly imagery in the world, we’ll need that many satellites globally,” he said.
Capella currently has 47 employees and plans to hire another 10 or so over the next few months, mainly on the business and product side, according to Banazadeh.
He said the company already has tens of millions of dollars of pre-sale commitments and envisions potential customers will be companies with global infrastructure assets that need to be monitored. Current customers include the Department of Defense, blue-chip companies and NGOs.
“Our goal is to help companies prevent damages and disasters and ultimately save resources and lives in the process,” Banzadeh said.
Matt Ocko of DCVC said in a written statement that major industries and governments are “starved for timely satellite data, and even more so for data with the unique signal and intelligence advantage Capella’s synthetic aperture radar tech can provide.”
“Commodity trading, urban development, critical infrastructure, shipping and security: businesses across the board realize that milliseconds matter in today’s global economy, and a steady stream of reliable, easily accessible Earth information just does not exist,” he added.
Nabeel Hyatt of Spark Capital said his firm believes in Capella’s mission to offer better visibility “into more corners of the world than any other satellite system.”