Capella Space

For using highly sophisticated imaging technology to develop tiny satellites that are cheaper and vastly superior to current versions.

Palo AltoCA 
 Photo Credit: Courtesy Company

Why It's Disruptive

The technology powering most satellites is remarkably limited. They're unable to image the surface of Earth in areas where it's cloudy or dark--which is about three-quarters of the planet at any given time. Palo Alto, California-based Capella Space has found a solution to that problem, building tiny satellites that use synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a technology that can capture images in any light or weather condition. Capella's satellites are roughly the size of a backpack and a fraction of the weight of the few competitors in the SAR space. They cost less to build and are able to take photos much more frequently. 

SAR opens the door to all manner of new applications, from tracking soil moisture to assess the health of crops to more-accurate mapping for self-driving cars. The company has customers in a variety of industries, and co-founder and CEO Payam Banazadeh, an aerospace engineer by training, says many of the technology's potential uses haven't even been dreamed up yet.

Biggest Challenges

Before it can show off its technology, Capella must navigate a lengthy and costly regulatory process. It is now on track to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies, and to launch its first satellite at the end of 2017, says Banazadeh. From there, he and co-founder William Woods plan to have 36 satellites in orbit in a three-year period. --Doug Cantor