The imperative of DoD/IC investment in SAR technology is clear. The United States government must fund every American SAR company or China will pass the United States.
Fund the primes, fund the startups, and fund every existing American SAR company. The United States must fund a disaggregated commercial/government architecture and use resources more broadly, billions of dollars in a single program is idiotic. The United States needs a least ten SAR programs, to fight the 100 Chinese SAR programs.
China’s rapid progression in space technology, specifically in the field of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, is a wake-up call for the United States. Our defense industry, by comparison, appears stagnated, lagging in the deployment of new technologies, and trailing in innovation. Crucially, our defense primes have not flight-tested new technology in years and, according to some evaluations, are many years away from constructing anything truly new or innovative. The solution to this technological gap might be closer to home than we think. American companies, like Umbra Space, Capella Space, and ICEYE USA, hold the potential to propel us forward.
Last week, China successfully conducted another pair of satellite launches, signifying its commitment to the relentless pursuit of SAR technologies. A Long March 2C rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, carrying the Macau Science Satellite 1A and 1B and the Luojia-2 (01), a Ka-band SAR test satellite. The Macau satellites are designed to study the Earth’s magnetic field and the South Atlantic Anomaly, while Luojia-2 (01) tested multi-angle and video radar imaging. These advancements serve to bolster China’s Beidou navigation system and represent another milestone in China’s ongoing surge in SAR developments.
In addition to these, a Long March 3B rocket carried the 56th satellite for China’s Beidou navigation and positioning system into a geostationary orbit. This backup satellite is part of an effort to enhance the system’s availability, stability, and positioning precision. These missions represent China’s 19th and 20th launches of 2023, with more than 60 further launches planned this year. This pace of space activities outshines the United States’, demonstrating China’s unwavering commitment to space technology dominance.
However, all hope is not lost for the U.S. The country is home to a vibrant startup culture brimming with innovative minds and cutting-edge technological advancements. Startups like Umbra Space, Capella Space, and ICEYE USA have already demonstrated an impressive ability to create high-quality technology rapidly and have raised over $500M dollars to further their technology.
Umbra Space and Capella Space are pioneering SAR technologies to offer highly detailed imagery of Earth, while ICEYE USA is revolutionizing the sector with its compact and cost-efficient SAR satellite solutions. Unlike large defense primes, these companies aren’t hindered by bureaucratic red tape and inertia. Instead, they’re agile, innovative, and capable of pushing the boundaries of what’s currently possible.
To keep pace with China’s rapid advancement, the U.S. government must rethink its perspective on defense contracting. We need to shift our focus away from traditional defense primes and start supporting these nimble, innovative startups. This should include significant financial investment, favorable contracts, and a steadfast commitment to their success.
In the race for dominance in space technology, the American ethos of entrepreneurial innovation is our secret weapon. A concerted effort to fund, support, and encourage startups like Umbra Space, Capella Space, and ICEYE USA could put America back in the driver’s seat. While China’s progress in the SAR space is undeniably impressive, there’s still time for a course correction. By harnessing our nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and technological prowess, we can ensure that America remains at the forefront of technological advancement.
My biggest fear is, the United States will spend billions of dollars on defense primes, which will, as they always do, delay and prolog their mission, and by 2030 there will be little to no SAR technology coming from the United States.