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Good morning. Any Greater LA readers out there? Read on for details on an event we’re hosting in your backyard soon.

In today’s newsletter:
🛰️ Capella’s C
🎈 SpaceRyde
🔃 On the move

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Capella Banks Nearly $100M

Image: Capella

Capella Space has raised a $97M Series C, led by NightDragon and joined by existing investors DCVC and Cota Capital. 

Founded in 2016, the SF-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR) startup has raised $190M total to date and currently operates a constellation of seven small satellites. Those satellites are fitted with Capella’s SAR sensors, which can provide 50cm, all-weather, and 24/7 imaging. 

Snapshot in time 

Capella doubled revenue in the last 12 months of operations. It expects to triple revenue over the next 12 months and grow its total customer base by 400+%. “This financing allows us to double down on things that are working,” CEO Payam Banazadeh told Payload: building satellites, refreshing their design, developing new analytics tools, and staffing up the sales org to accommodate growth.

The state of SAR 

“I think the commercial side of the market for SAR is less mature than it is for optical [imagery],” Banazadeh said. Capella found product-market fit by building for defense/intelligence users, who have more experience and sophistication with SAR. “The business bets are all focused on the government customers, on the mature market that we believe in.” 

  • SAR and unclassified imagery have stood out in the Ukraine war, per Banazadeh, because the country is often obscured by clouds. It also isn’t a NATO member, which limits classified intelligence-sharing. 
  • Capella is collecting over Ukraine “many times” a day and “providing 24/7 support” to “multiple parties,” Banazadeh said. 

Capella’s strategy

“We’ve tried to build a company that’s as vertically integrated as makes sense,” Banazadeh said, and “selectively picked features to extract out of our imagery.” The company recently rolled out three new analytics products to Capella Console, its self-serve tasking platform. 

Banazadeh highlighted a few other strengths of Capella’s offerings: 

  1. An automated and API-first architecture
  2. Playing nicely with others and tipping/getting tipped for cross-tasking
  3. The compounding advantages of a growing archive, and Capella’s ability to build unique models on top of that. 

What’s next? Capella will grow its constellation in 2022 and 2023. Soon, it will also unveil a next-gen satellite with new bells and whistles aplenty. Banazadeh said Capella is uniquely positioned to “sit on the sidelines as a private company” and “grow our business, mature our books, and…get to EBITDA-positive.” Then, over the next two years, Capella will be able to pick the right time to “make our next move.”

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This Way And That

Image: SpaceRyde

Canadian launch startup SpaceRyde has conducted a test fire of what it says is the world’s first gimbaling hybrid rocket engine.

The Toronto company is building what it hopes will be Canada’s first orbital rocket. How the system works: A balloon will bring the small-lift rocket above 99% of the atmosphere, where the latter will then fire up its engines and attempt to launch to orbit, SpaceRyde CEO Sohrab Haghighat told Payload. The full rocket will be vacuum-optimized due to the thinness of the atmosphere at launch altitude.

Gimbaling engine? The engine that SpaceRyde is currently testing can be maneuvered around by its operators, generating thrust in the direction of their choosing. This, Haghighat says, allows more flexibility for customers angling to get to orbit, as it can pivot to place payloads into very specific orbits for cheaper.

  • “It is important to have this control over the direction of the thrust,” said Haghighat. “This is at the moment the only hybrid engine that has such capability.”
  • The engine is designed to provide 54 kilonewtons of thrust.

The gimbaling engine also saves the rocket developer from having to add mass in additional thrusters. “The technology that we have developed is basically an integral part of the engine,” said Haghighat. “It’s not going to add to the weight of it, and that allows it to offer the target price point that we had without significantly affecting the performance of the rocket.”

The price point: The cost per launch will be $250,000 up to 25kg, then $10,000 per kg over that up to a price cap of $1M per launch. The rocket will have a maximum payload capacity of 150kg.

Up next: The startup still has more tests to complete and components to build before it’s ready to bring its balloon-launched rocket to market. SpaceRyde operates its own factory and test facility, which allows it to iterate quickly and test components as many times as needed. The company is aiming to begin commercial operations in 2023.

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In Other News

  • Launcher test-fired its E-2 liquid rocket engine. CEO Max Haot tells Payload that the next test will be the first with an integrated turbopump—read more here.
  • With Ax-1 back, NASA and SpaceX are preparing to launch the Crew-4 mission to the ISS. 
  • It’s official: Twitter accepted Elon’s ~$44B buyout offer. Via Twitter’s founder, @jack: “I’m so happy Twitter will continue to serve the public conversation. Around the world, and into the stars!”
  • SLS rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building overnight. 
  • Ursa Space introduced parameter-based future tasking on satellite imagery on the Ursa Platform. 
  • NASA greenlit an OSIRIS-REx extension after the craft returns a sample from the asteroid Bennu to Earth next year. The next mission will target a near-Earth asteroid named Apophis for observation.

On the Move

  • The DoD’s first chief architect officer, Preston Dunlap, has stepped down to launch a space software company, Bloomberg reports. 
  • Starburst Ventures appointed Cyril Grislain as general partner and Benjamin Zeitoun as investor.
  • Space Foundation added five new members to its board of directors.
  • Slingshot Aerospace hired Bobby Brenman as VP of marketing.
  • NASA appointed Joseph Pelfrey as deputy director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Sidus Space (NASDAQ: SIDU) brought on John Curry as chief mission operations officer.
  • Sierra Space named Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s former Skunk Works chief, as its new COO.
  • Kratos Defense & Security Solutions (NASDAQ: KTOS) announced Robert Winkler as its VP of corporate development & national security programs.
  • Copernic Space brought Kevin O’Donnell onto its advisory board.
  • Virgin Orbit (NASDAQ:VORB) National Systems, the company’s newly renamed government arm, added Craig R. Cooning, a former Boeing exec and retired USAF major general, to its board.
  • SkyFi named Kammy Brun its VP of strategy & business development.
  • Reaction Engines appointed Philippa Davies to engineering director on the executive leadership team.
  • UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng appointed Lord David Willetts as chair of the UK Space Agency’s board.

The View from Space

A SpaceX Dragon capsule descending with four parachutes.
Four mains deploying. Image: Axiom

The Ax-1 crew safely splashed down off the coast of Florida at about 1 PM ET yesterday. ”Going to space is an amazing adventure, but more than anything else, it offers perspective in the most literal sense,” commander Michael Lopez-Alegria said after landing. “You see the world differently and come home with a new frame of reference—a new way of looking at the world.”

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Follow the newsroom. Rachael is Payload’s reporter and Ryan is the managing editor.
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