We were skeptical about Umbra Labs (link) back in 2016, assuming their advertised capability was just too good to be true. We were wrong.
Umbra’s patent proves that Umbra built something totally different from any other SAR company. If the antenna works, the Umbra antenna has the potential to offer a “reimagining” of how all space based radio frequency satellites could exploit the Umbra antenna technology. Umbra’s antenna allows their small satellites to balance “size, weight and power (SWAP)” to maximize cost and performance. The high compaction ratio of the antenna solves many of the (SWAP) problems which have historically crippled the performance of other small SAR satellites.
Umbra has been notoriously secretive over the last few years, leaving the industry with more questions than answers. Slowly Umbra’s investors Starbridge Ventures and CrossCut Ventures trickled out information claiming the company was quietly building a next generation SAR micro-satellite.
Recently, Umbra has been offering much more information to the press culminating with a video on their website. Umbra “went back to the basics,” says Umbra’s CEO David Langan. Umbra shows their antenna, their “core intellectual property which offers unrivaled performance over any existing or planned radar satellite,” the video states.
As the title of this article suggests, the antenna gain is nearly unbelievable for a micro-satellite, “The antenna provides high gain with industry leading mass and compaction ratio and is designed for the rideshare form factor … 50.9 (X-Band SAR) at a beam width of 0.5°” says Umbra’s FCC license.
With hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into the SAR industry, Umbra has set the bar very high and they have a lot to prove. Umbra is claiming to offer an ability to create “crisp” 0.25 meter imagery, a 16X improvement over TerraSAR-X in pixel ratio and an order of magnitude improvement over other startups.
Umbra’s NOAA and FCC license lay out their plans. Umbra is utilizing a “fully digital” radar with 1200MHz of bandwidth and over 550w of peak power and their antenna is greater than 10 sq meters. Umbra’s ability to create reliable and crisp .25 meter imagery which is now freely available internationally, reports Space News.
Umbra boasts about the former Deputy Director of Raytheon Vision Systems; Marcus Chevitarese, and a team from NASA, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Los Angeles Airforce Base, Space and Missile Command, Raytheon Electronic Warfare, NAWCWD Point Mugu and Orbital ATK.
Umbra says they will not be offering a grand vision of their plans and will only be releasing information about what they have achieved and when it has been completed. All of these things combined will make for pretty interesting announcements when they do happen.