Editors Note: Umbra Lab “declines to be interviewed” but updated their website October 2017 with insights to their mission. More information about Umbra Lab can be found in this article: New Space Disruption: ICEYE, Umbra Lab and Capella Space.
Stealth Satellite Startup Umbra Lab is Flying Under the Radar. What is Umbra Lab Doing?
Here’s What We Know About Umbra Lab.
Umbra Lab is a ‘new space’ start-up in Santa Barbara, CA developing a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) microsatellite. Last year, Space News Magazine printed an in-depth article called SAR WARS: A new hope for commercial space-based radar detailing all the new companies in the commercial SAR market with no mention of Umbra Lab. Umbra is latin for “shadow” which seems to be very fitting for this “stealthy” company. The company does not have a blog and has yet to release press.
Umbra Lab’s website confirms they are developing a microsatellite with sub-meter resolution. Sub-meter optical satellite images are what most people are familiar with seeing on Google Maps. Umbra Lab appears to be the only ‘new space’ company offering sub-meter radar imaging from a microsatellite.
Small satellites have one major flaw, their size creates limitations to antennas and power systems which makes generation of useful sub-meter images a challenge. On their respective websites, Iceye lists their resolution as 10 meters (with plans to improve to 3 meters), and Capella Space ambiguously lists their resolution as “meter”
How has Umbra Lab cracked the code of high resolution imaging from a microsatellite? A new technology? A new power system? Super-resolution image processing?
One question that can be answered is Umbra Lab is actively testing their system. In April 2017, the company had to publicly apply for a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license to perform airborne testing for their microsatellite. The FCC license and Umbra Lab’s website both suggest the company has received substantial funding. Developing and testing a payload would be a significant financial undertaking.
Want to know more about Umbra Lab? They have a newsletter signup on their website but don’t hold your breath.