Umbra Lab plans smallsat high-res SAR constellation + SAR earth observation sector getting crowded

Umbra Lab is a startup that has emerged in the commercial radar earth observation satellite sector since we released our NewSpace Global 2017 SAR Satellite Report. Umbra claims to offer “Smaller. Smarter. Sub-meter Space-based Synthetic Aperture Radar”(SAR) Microsatellites”.

Our approach leverages commercial technology to reduce costs at every point in the collection process and provides a strategic competitive advantage relative to current and planned systems.

The company plans to launch a constellation of 12 SAR smallsats that would provide resolution in the 0.25m range, which is exceptional for SAR imaging.

Umbra kept a very low profile until late last year: ​Stealth Startup Umbra Lab is Flying Under the Radar – SAR Journal.

The LA based venture capital firm Crosscut Ventures has invested and unstated amount in Umbra: CrossCut’s Moonshot: Umbra Lab — Space and the Next-Generation of Big Data

We are pleased to announce our investment in Umbra Lab and look forward to helping the company grow. This is our first of what we hope will be several investments in what is being called the “new space” category. Thanks to SpaceX (and many other low-cost launch initiatives) and the CubeSat format (led by Planet), there seems to be a massive new opportunity to commercialize Space. It is definitely a high risk/high reward area of investment and we have enjoyed spending the last 6 months building relationships across the ecosystem. We have been thrilled to see incredible entrepreneurs and technical innovations exploding from the Southern California tech scene and it’s amazing aerospace legacy.

Umbra joins a big list of smallsat constellation projects: A Table of Commercial Satellite Constellations | NewSpace Global.


Proponents of SAR EO believe it will prove its value in a wide range of commercial markets in the next few years. However, there will be a lot of competitors vying to capture those markets: Not convinced of the promise of commercial radar satellites? Meet the radar mafia. –

Startups backed primarily by private venture capital have announced plans to launch dozens of small SAR satellites within a decade to take advantage of the miniaturization of electronics. The new companies plan to lean heavily on advances in computer processing and machine learning to extract useful information from their data streams.

Meanwhile, industry veterans like Airbus Defence and Space, MDA and the Italian Space Agency are preparing to update their constellations of large radar satellites that produce high-value products, like maps that can pinpoint changes in elevation of millimeters. Digital Elevation Models created with SAR can show, for example, “if land is sinking or a building has moved or if somebody tunneling made the surface of the land above them shift,” said Mike Greenley, president of MDA, a Maxar Technologies company. “It’s very sensitive to elevation, which is important to a lot of customers.”

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