Climate change has drawn a lot of attention in recent history as one of the major threats to our planet’s ecosystem. The increased desire it has brought to safeguard our environment has also helped lend fuel to other conservation efforts. However, many of these efforts have suffered from a lack of access to information about how their work is progressing and how to monitor it effectively. Now, CEO Payam Banazadeh is helping to support these efforts through the creation of his company — Capella Space. Read on for a look at some of the ways the company is working to bolster conservation efforts with satellite technology.
Before we look to some of the specific ways in which Payam Banazadeh is helping to support conservation, let’s examine the technology he’s working on with his company. That technology revolves around a fundamental shift in how we use imaging satellites to monitor the surface of our planet. To understand that shift, we should first look to how this process has been handled in the past.
Many of us are familiar with the use of optical imaging satellites. These satellites, which function similarly to a photographic camera, make use of light to create images of the surface of the planet. This process can create visually stunning images, which you’ve likely seen if you’ve used satellite view on modern mapping software. But these satellites come with a few limitations. One of the main limitations is that, since they need light to function, they’re practically useless at night. They also can’t penetrate cloud cover, which covers a significant portion of the planet at any one time. Taken together, these limitations mean a traditional optical imaging satellite can only image about 25% of the Earth at any one time.
To address this issue, the CEO turned to the use of a different imaging technology known as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). Rather than rely on external light sources, SAR satellites actually emit their own form of energy that bounces off the planet’s surface and returns to sensors in the satellite. Because the process is independent of the Sun, the technology can create highly detailed images of the planet’s surface during both day and night. Since the energy can also pass through cloud cover, the technology also functions in all weather conditions. These benefits allow the company’s satellites to image the entirety of the planet’s surface at any given time, which creates the ability for continuous regular monitoring of the Earth — a major leap forward for imaging capabilities.
Let’s now look at a couple of example images released by the company’s prototype satellite, Sequoia, and how they can be used to further the cause of conservation efforts. One recent image focuses on a wholly unique geological landmark — the Richat Structure. The structure, located in Mauritania, is an elliptical dome that has eroded over time to expose fascinating concentric rings of sedimentary rock. In part due to its eye-catching appearance from space, the structure has long-fascinated astronauts and others who have been able to see it in its full glory.
While the unique nature of the structure and its ongoing gradual erosion has drawn researchers to it for further study, the site also enjoys special protections to help safeguard its natural beauty. This has presented a challenge to those who wish to study the site and the continual changes it’s undergoing. Through the release of a SAR photo of the site, Capella Space is showcasing its ability to image the site to a high enough resolution that erosion and other important details can be studied without affecting conservation efforts in place at the structure. This allows for the accrual of important knowledge that is balanced with a respect for natural formations on the Earth’s surface.
Another issue of evergreen importance in conservation efforts is the responsible use of water, including minimizing the use of clean water and avoiding contamination of important water sources. This has become an issue of special importance in China, where a large population has motivated the creation of vast government-built infrastructures for managing water resources. While these infrastructures are helping to deliver clean water to large populations within the country, there has been some concern that they are also serving to weaken conservation efforts focused on preserving water security.
The CEO’s company recently helped to shed light on this issue through the release of an image of the South-North Water Transfer Project based in Tianjin, China. The image helps to show the current state of water conditions along the Yongding New River. In doing so, it illustrates how the project is being used in real-time to come to the aid of residents, but also how it may be causing harm to the surrounding environment. One point of concern has been diminishing potable water tables, which may make it more difficult for residents to get clean drinking water in the future. The image also helps bring to light concerns about how water management relates to climate change and how some water practices may be spreading agricultural pesticides.
Access to data
The two images highlighted above help to show why the CEO’s company, which focuses its efforts on the commercial use of space, does not consider itself a “satellite company.” Instead, it thinks of itself as a data company. That’s because the CEO and others in the company feel that the data they provide on important aspects of the current state of the planet’s surface can be used to create a great deal of change with respect to how life progresses on Earth.
One of the most important areas in which this can occur is in the world of conservation. Through accurate, timely, and continuous data about the state of the planet’s surface, the company is helping conservationists accomplish some of their loftiest goals. This can involve supporting the study of unique natural geological formations, the monitoring of potable water sources, or warning us about possible sources of environmental pollution. These examples just scratch the surface of what Payam Banazadeh seems poised to accomplish with his work at Capella Space. As the company readies itself for the launch of additional satellites into orbit, expect to hear more about how the company is changing our understanding of the world around us.