Payam BanazadehWith the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), satellites orbiting Earth can produce 2 and 3-D images of the planet’s landscapes, cities, ports and more, day or night and even in inclement weather. Data collected from these images could be used to analyze traffic at a busy intersection, manage resources more efficiently or even save lives in search-and-rescue missions.

But SAR satellites present their own challenges. For decades, government and military agencies have used this technology, but the satellites are very large and expensive. The satellites themselves cost about half a billion dollars, with each photo costing thousands of dollars, making them an impractical option for most businesses and individuals.

Alumnus Payam Banazadeh, B.S. ASE 2012, is working on a solution to this. His company, Capella Space, is the first to combine SAR with CubeSats — small, inexpensive satellites — and plans to be the first in the U.S. to launch a commercial SAR satellite into space. Banazadeh says these satellites will have the capability of producing images at a fraction of the cost. This will allow them to put more SARs into space, making it possible to take frequent photos of more locations. Capella’s goal is to create images that could develop a better understanding of the Earth which could aid in disaster relief, city planning and oil and gas applications.

“Imagine if we could capture an image of Austin from space every hour of every day and every night all the time and understand how things are changing, understand the movement of cars, movement of manmade objects,” he said. “There’s a lot of hidden value in that type of information.”

Capella Space has attracted a lot of interest for this project in the last year. Banazadeh has managed to raise millions in venture capital funding, and Capella Space already has a contract with the Department of Defense. The Capella Space team is in the process of expanding, growing to 20 people, and not too long ago, Forbes named Banazadeh and his co-founder William Woods  one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Technology Enterprise category for their work at Capella Space.

“I never thought in a million years I would be on Forbes,” Banazadeh said. “Both my co-founder Will and I are humbled and honored to be included.”

Banazadeh has worked with CubeSats since his days at the UT Austin’s Texas Spacecraft Lab, as an undergraduate student in aerospace engineering. He says the time he spent with CubeSats there had a profound impact on his career.

“I would say that was the biggest program I was involved with outside of classes and probably the most influential,” Banazadeh said. “I use everything that I learned in that lab every day right now when I’m at work. It’s essentially the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

During his summers as an undergraduate student, Banazadeh interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Working at NASA had been a dream when he first visited the Johnson Space Center as a child, so when he graduated from UT in 2012, it seemed only natural that he would end up working for NASA.

Banazadeh began his career at NASA-JPL, where he worked on various projects such as sending CubeSats to asteroids. In 2014, he decided to pursue his management degree at Stanford, where he met his future business partner, Woods, who was working on his Ph.D in SAR. With Woods’ background in SAR and Banazadeh’s background with CubeSats, the team set out to design the first American commercial SAR CubeSat.

About a year later, with secured funding beneath them and an expanding team and an exciting future ahead, the duo is excited to see the difference they might make with this new satellite technology.

“We’re excited about just being disruptive and doing something that hasn’t happened before,” Banazadeh said. “Most of our excitement comes from what we’re doing, which is making this technology so accessible.”