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Payam Banazadeh and the Power of SAR

Throughout human history, the forward progress of technology has helped change our world astronomically. Often, this progress is achieved when entrepreneurs innovate, developing imaginative and novel uses for a technology that has existed for some time, but may not have reached its full potential. This process can be hugely influential, and we’ve decided to take a closer look at the example set by Payam Banazadeh and his work with Capella Space. The way in which the company is reimagining the usage of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is an instructive lesson on the transformative power of technology and the process of innovation itself.

Professional history

Before we examine his work at Capella Space, let’s take a brief look at Payam’s professional history, as it ties in heavily to his current efforts. An aerospace engineer by education and experience, the entrepreneur completed his B.S. in Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he went on to attend Stanford University for a master’s degree in Business & Management in lieu of an MBA, in part due to the way in which the program focused not only on the behavioral challenges of running an organization, but also the technical considerations.

His prior experience before Capella was largely focused around NASA, where he first started as a Mission Formulation Intern at the organization’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He held a number of different roles at NASA throughout his time there, proving his ability to handle increasing responsibilities and expectations along the way. Eventually, he took on a position as a Lead Project System Engineer. The role saw him formulate new missions and concepts, and required the management of highly complex small satellite systems. This intimate glimpse into how the space agency handles the deployment and management of satellites would inform many of Payam’s decisions in his later work.

The Creation of Capella Space

Capella Space, for which the entrepreneur has since become widely known, was first formulated in Payam’s mind while he was pursuing his degree at Stanford. At that time, the world was astonished by the news that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur to China. Though the flight is presumed to have gone down over the ocean, no records of where the flight disappeared could be found. In an increasingly connected world, the mystery of the flight’s disappearance puzzled and disturbed people across the planet.

The entrepreneur was amongst that group. He saw the flight’s disappearance as a clear example of the need for a system that could more closely monitor the Earth’s surface for changes and other details of interest. Flight 370 dramatically showed that no such system existed, contrary to the beliefs of many.

The recognition of this need by the entrepreneur led Payam and his partner to come up with an idea for a constellation of satellites that could regularly monitor the planet and provide important observation-based data. Through the use of these satellites, organizations across the world would have a better understanding of infrastructure usage, environmental changes, food shortages, and more. From this kernel of an idea, Capella Space was born.

Turning to SAR

In the past, many efforts to monitor the planet’s surface have been conducted through the use of optical satellites. These satellites function in a similar fashion to cameras, receiving light that is reflected from Earth’s surface and turning that into an image. Though the public has often been enthralled by the beautiful images these satellites can capture, the technology has significant limitations. With around 75% of the planet obscured by nighttime or cloud cover at any given time, these satellites only have access to generally about 25% of the Earth’s surface. This inhibits their ability to provide real-time data wherever and whenever it’s needed.

With this in mind, the entrepreneur turned to SAR technology as an alternative means of monitoring Earth’s surface. Rather than passively receive light from other sources, SAR satellites emit energy of their own and then wait for it to be reflected off of surface objects and back to their component receiver. Without the need to rely on the light of the sun, these satellites can effectively monitor surface conditions at day or night. SAR satellites can also penetrate through cloud cover to monitor the surface below weather patterns. The result is that satellites utilizing such technology can monitor the planet’s surface when and where it is needed, regardless of the conditions on the ground.

Adapting the technology

Having chosen to specialize in SAR for its uses helping organizations monitor the planet, Capella Space still needed to make meaningful strides in making its technology practical for use. Though SAR satellites had been utilized in the past, they were often bulky and costly to produce and maintain. Full coverage of the Earth, a cornerstone of the entrepreneur’s vision, would require an entire constellation of satellites — untenable with a fleet of such large and cumbersome machines.

Banazadeh’s solution was to adapt the technology using his understanding of space-based operations to design a much smaller SAR satellite that could be more easily deployed in orbit around the planet. This development helps to illustrate how industry can incorporate technologies and then innovate to find new applications for their use. By realizing the potential for SAR technologies in the information age, and combining that realization with satellite redesigns which focused on agility and cost-efficiency, Payam has been able to bring his vision to life in a way that the world has never seen before.

That process lies at the heart of technological innovation and goes to show the ways in which the marketplace and technological development inform one another. The work of Payam Banazadeh and Capella Space showcases just one example of that. The entrepreneur’s efforts to reimagine the applications of an existing technology has helped to create a powerful new way of transmitting data about our planet. As his work develops even further, it will no doubt continue to influence other technologies and market sectors in unique and beneficial ways.