Startups of the week: Capella Space, Astro Technology, Calm

A San Francisco space technology company is gearing up for its first launch next month after securing $19 million in funding.

Capella Space was born from CEO Payam Banazadeh’s frustration as he watched the coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 going missing in 2014. He said he was “totally mesmerized” for weeks and felt disappointed that many governments could not find a huge plane.

The company, which was incorporated in March 2016 and received its first round of funding the next June, has spent the past 2½ years developing small satellites that can deliver high-quality images anywhere on Earth under any condition.

“We started the company with the goal that if we could essentially miniaturize that technology into a really small package and, as a result of that, change the cost game and launch these satellites in dozens, we will bring a new capability that allows us to monitor our planet very frequently,” Banazadeh said. “And because of the cost difference and this new capability, we can open this up to the commercial world, whereas before it’s only been sort of limited to government use only.”

Typical satellites are about the size of a school bus and very expensive, so governments were the only entities that could break into space, Banazadeh said. Capella’s satellites are about the size of a backpack, which makes it easier, faster and less expensive to launch them into space with fewer rockets.

The company has raised about $35 million, including the latest round of funding, and also has a $10 million contract with the Department of Defense.

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Because about 75 percent of the Earth is covered by clouds or darkness at any given time, there are major gaps in monitoring the Earth, Banazadeh said. Capella Space’s satellites use synthetic aperture radars to be able to see through darkness and weather conditions and monitor the planet.

Banazadeh said Capella isn’t a satellite company — it just happens to build satellites that can be used for monitoring. The company is working toward establishing a “12-plane, high revisit constellation” that can produce hourly images.

Capella is planning to launch its first satellite in November, an internal prototype, on a SpaceX rocket. The company plans to send another satellite that will serve as an operational demo to space in May, and by the end of 2019 the company wants to have the first six of the 36 satellites in space, Banazadeh said.

With the first six satellites up, Capella will be able to monitor anywhere in the world every six hours. By the end of 2020, the company plans to have another six satellites in space to monitor the Earth every three hours, and eventually there will be 36 satellites in space for hourly monitoring, Banazadeh said.

Deal of the week: Astro Technology

What it does: Astro is a startup that uses artificial intelligence for workplace communications, like email and calendar apps.

What happened: It was bought by Slack Technologies, the San Francisco work-messaging company.

Why it matters: The acquisition marks the expansion of Slack into other areas of office communication beyond instant messaging.

Headquarters: Palo Alto

Funding: $10 million

Employees: About 25 Astro employees will join Slack.

Also trending: Calm

What it does: Calm is a meditation app that has soothing sounds and images to help users reduce stress and sleep.

What happened: Calm has teamed with American Airlines to provide inflight meditation services, according to CNBC.

Why it matters: Meditation app Headspace has worked with airlines on inflight meditation since 2011, and now Calm is looking to get into the arena.

Headquarters: San Francisco

Funding: About $28 million

Employees: 11-50

Sophia Kunthara is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sophia.kunthara@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SophiaKunthara

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