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6 mins read 25 May 2021

GeoPlex enters into partnership with Capella Space

Geoplex, the mapping and geographical information arm of consulting business, Nova Group, have signed an agreement with Capella Space to help Geoplex deliver high-quality, all weather imaging solutions to their customers. 

An illustration of Capella-2, launched in August 2020. The Synthetic Aperture RADAR using its 3.5m unfurlable RADAR reflector can provide images less than 50cmx50cm from its orbiting height of 525km. Credit - Capella Space

Melbourne based Geoplex have signed an agreement to work with US-based Capella Space to deliver high-resolution Synthetic Aperture RADAR images to their Australian customers. Capella Space, who have launched 5 satellites since late last year are offering all-weather 50cm by 50cm ground resolution and the ability to detect changes in heights down to millimeters.  

Geoplex who provide geospatial solutions to their customers across government and industry are utilising Capella’s offering to supplement the images they already get from companies such as Planet. 

“There is a huge opportunity for emerging SAR capability to be leveraged more widely by industry and Government in Australia,” Garry Farmer, Geoplex’s Product Sales Lead, said.

“SAR imagery presents new possibilities for imagery exploitation and feature extraction. Organisations with this cutting-edge capability will have the ability to penetrate surfaces, vegetation, smoke and clouds, day or night to see their assets anywhere, anytime,” he continued. 

Geoplex are able to send a task through to Capella to get the image that is required which is then prioritised depending on need. Capella are offering a 50cm x 50cm ground resolution, the most detailed currently available on the commercial market. Capella are also offering an even lower resolution, but that is only available to US government customers. 

It is not only the high resolution that is unique to Capella’s offering. “What is really interesting about Capella is their 9 look approach,” said Brittany Dahl, a Geospatial Consultant for Geoplex. This 9 look view, which Capella calls “SPOT”, takes images from all around an object, developing a 3D view. 

“As we are going over an area, we can continue essentially keeping the focus of the spacecraft in the same location for up to 60 seconds,” Mr Payam Banazadeh, CEO and founder of Capella Space explained.

Capella’s satellites are groundbreaking for other reasons too. Traditionally SAR satellites are quite large, but Capella has taken SAR technology and miniaturised it. All of their satellites are around the 100kg mark and feature a 3.5m RADAR reflector. 

“With the ability to capture imagery at all times of day, in all weather conditions, our constellation of SAR satellites helps our customers develop a richer understanding of our planet. We’re excited to partner with Geoplex to make SAR data even more available to the Australian market and look forward to our continued partnership,” said Dayna Anderson, the vice president of business operations at Capella Space.

Synthetic Aperture RADAR

An image of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as seen through the lens of a Synthetic Aperture RADAR on board Capella-2. Capella Space’s SPOT imaging can give a 3D look at a location and provide information such as building height and water levels. Credit - Capella Space

Typically Earth Observation (EO) satellite systems utilise multispectral sensors that cover the visible range, the challenge of that is that it usually requires daylight and cannot penetrate cloud cover. Synthetic Aperture RADAR (SAR) can overcome these challenges. EO satellites also tend to use a Sun-Synchronous Orbit, which means it covers the same spot on the Earth’s surface at the same time each day. Because SAR doesn’t require light to create an image, SAR satellites can be placed in a variety of different orbits and can provide a more rapid response. 

“SAR imagery is quite new to the commercial market, it has in the past been fairly defence heavy”, said Dahl.  

One interesting area that is utilising this new offering is the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC). According to Dahl, the data that is used to set the fire data ratings is significantly out of date and AFAC are looking to develop a better understanding of the fuel load. “In the past, they just had grass or forest,” she said, but now with better data, they have developed a mapping system where they can see all the latest fire danger rating information. 

“What is really interesting is that the use cases are opening up. Now it is being used for fighting fires, seeing vegetation and other areas [it has not typically been used for]. It really is a growth area at the moment,” said Dahl. 

Those sentiments are echoed by Mr Banazadeh. “One of the most recent events that could have used our capability were the millions of acres of the West Coast of the United States that were devastated by wildfires and completely blanketed a third of our country in hazardous opaque smoke.”  

“If we can’t see what’s happening around us, we can’t make good decisions. SAR allows us, our first responders, our policymakers, and the world to see. That is critical,” he said in a statement last year. 

Capella Space

When the Ever Given first got stuck in the Suez Canal, Capella was one of the first satellites to get a detailed image due to the fact it could capture images at night. Credit - Capella Space

Late last year Capella Space launched their first imaging satellite capable of delivering a ground resolution of 50 x 50cm, utilising Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). Capella-2 was launched in August 2020, onboard RocketLabs “I can’t believe it’s not optical” mission. Capella 3 quickly followed in January 2021, when they were launched as part of SpaceX’s first dedicated SmallSat Rideshare Mission, Transporter-1. Their fourth satellite, of their total proposed fleet of 7, was launched into orbit, earlier this month, onboard a Falcon-9 which also launched 52 Starlink satellites. 

It wasn’t until January this year though that Capella started its commercial offering, delivering the claimed best-in-class quality data. According to the release this technology will offer the ability to penetrate surfaces, vegetation, smoke and clouds, day or night. Giving companies the ability to monitor their assets any time, anywhere. Once complete, the Capella constellation will be able to deliver hourly revisits, tracking data such as material properties and elevations. 

Capella is also offering a “game-changing” user interface that automates the order to delivery process, allowing for swift tasking and 24 hr day image collection, through a secure web platform. 

“At Capella Space, we are on a mission to make timely, reliable, high-quality Earth observation data more user friendly and accessible,” said Anderson.