When Capella Space’s first operational synthetic aperture radar satellite launched from New Zealand last month on a Rocket Lab Electron, a team of agriculture specialists at The Climate Corporation watched with excitement.
“We were really happy,” said Steven Ward, the director of geospatial sciences at The Climate Corporation, a San Francisco-based subsidiary of life sciences and pharmaceutical giant Bayer that leverages satellite imagery to help farmers boost crop yields and insure against weather-driven losses. “We actually had a Slack channel where we were celebrating that launch.”
The Climate Corporation processed 600 million satellite images in 2019, most of it optical, Ward said. The company hasn’t integrated synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, imagery into its Climate FieldView product line yet, but is studying how radar, which can peer through clouds, could fill gaps left by optical satellites over notoriously cloudy regions like Brazil, Indonesia and the Niger delta, he said.
“We’re getting bits and pieces of the story of the field,” Ward said. “What adding SAR data into the mix does is it fills in the gaps. We’re missing chapters, and it’s filling in those chapters.”
SAR satellites can gather data day and night, and through all weather conditions, but the resultant imagery is typically more expensive, less available, and more difficult to use than optical imagery.
Technological advances, as much on the ground as in space, are breaking down those barriers, positioning SAR for much more widespread adoption, according to experts.
“For the first time in history, the ground segment is ready, the cloud computing is ready,