Payam Banazadeh Providing Open-Source Look at Earth’s Surface
Recent history has shown that great power can come from open-source collaboration and access to data. Household names such as Linux, WordPress, and Firefox are all the result of open-source communities working together to build something greater than the sum of their parts. That power is not lost on Payam Banazadeh, CEO of Capella Space. In fact, the entrepreneur is so convinced of the potential of open-source access to information that he’s baked the philosophy right into his company’s satellite venture. Read on for a look at how he’s using open-source principles and revolutionary satellite concepts in a bid to fundamentally change the manner in which we understand our world.
Before we dive into his company and connected philosophies, let’s first take a look at the background of Payam Banazadeh to see how his work has evolved over time. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, the entrepreneur earned his B.S. in Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical Engineering. On the strength of that education and his performance throughout his undergraduate coursework, he was able to land a coveted internship at NASA’s renowned Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
That first job at NASA revolved around introductory concepts in space. He acted as an ambassador for the organization, promoting STEM topics through seminars and lectures with k-12 students. He also participated in public events related to spaceflight, such as International Space Day.
Despite those humble beginnings, the engineer’s standing at NASA steadily grew, impressing his colleagues along the way. By the end of his time at the agency, he had risen to a position as a Lead Project System Engineer. In this line of work, he was tasked with formulating new mission concepts and managing highly complex satellite systems. He also had the opportunity to lead two interplanetary deep space missions in an engineering capacity.
While the engineer’s time at NASA was rich with learning opportunities, one of the most significant lessons he pulled from the experience was the power and limitations of existing satellite technology. Most members of the public are familiar with optical satellites as a means of imaging the Earth’s surface. These satellites, which function similarly to a traditional camera, are famous for the striking images they can produce of our planet. There is, however, a problem with the technology that severely hampers its effectiveness.
Since optical satellites passively take in light to function, they are essentially useless to capture the half of the Earth that is shrouded in darkness during nighttime. They are also unable to penetrate cloud cover, which typically obscures roughly half of the Earth’s daylight side at any given moment. This means that an optical satellite is usually only able to observe about 25% of the planet’s surface at a time. Needless to say, this can be severely detrimental if you want to regularly monitor the planet to see how it changes over time. That’s why a lesser-used technology caught the engineer’s eye – Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR).
Uses of SAR
SAR technology distinguishes itself from optical satellites by sensing the planet’s surface in an entirely different manner. The tech actually emits energy of its own and then monitors how it is reflected off the Earth. Without the need for light to function, and with the ability to penetrate cloud cover, the technology is able to monitor 100% of the planet’s surface, irrespective of time of day or weather conditions. This fact was a key motivating factor for Payam Banazadeh and his decision to start Capella Space. The company was formed to utilize SAR’s continuous sensing ability so that users could have access to ongoing information about the state of the planet.
In the company’s estimation, this potential of this information is practically limitless. Accurate and timely data about the state of the Earth’s surface has the potential to upend entire industries and revolutionize the way in which we conduct business on the planet. Infrastructures could be optimized in real-time depending on how they’re actually being used in the moment. Conservation efforts could stay ahead of evolving environmental disasters. Search and rescue teams could receive accurate sensing information about a given area to aid in their efforts to act fast in the wake of a major accident.
While the company is excited about the potential to be found in data gathered from its SAR satellites, it also holds a deep respect for the power that can be gained from opening up access to that data. That’s why the company has created the SAR developer community. The community, which can be accessed via an application on the company’s website, seeks to involve large groups of people in work to analyze planetary surface data to inform a range of uses. Individuals will be given access to aspects of the data to see how they can best put it to work.
One potential application in this realm that the company thinks may take off is the use of its data in machine learning applications. It believes this application could be used in land cover classification, object detection, and much more. It also hopes this access to data could make an impact in academia, where some of the world’s brightest minds are using innovative data science techniques to pull insights from information that previously seemed impossible. When combined with unprecedented access to data about the surface of our planet, these techniques could provide a host of insights to fuel innovation and new understandings about the nature of our interstellar home.
The power of SAR comes from its continuous ability to provide us information about the surface of our planet. This power was a driving factor for Payam Banazadeh in the creation of Capella Space. His hope has long been that as his company becomes more adept at capturing data, teams of collaborators will use these efforts for projects currently deemed unimaginable. As more and more members join the company’s open-source developer community, that goal should get closer and closer to reality. The whole endeavor promises a glance into the future of our use of space and our continued understanding of our world. If that future is to be shaped by individuals such as the engineer turned CEO, it seems that it will be a bright one indeed.