EP 30: Former NASA Engineer Launches His Own Rockets to Protect Our Planet

Payam Banazadeh | CEO and Founder of Capella Space

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the ensuing confusion deeply troubled Payam Banazadeh, a Stanford grad and former NASA satellite engineer. So he created Capella Space.

payam banazadeh of capella space

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Episode Summary

As Payam Banazadeh will tell you, Capella Space builds sophisticated satellites, but it’s not a “satellite company.” His company, based in San Francisco, also designs and launches rockets, but Banazadeh will insist that Capella Space isn’t strictly an “aerospace company” either. Those terms connote industries with specific purposes, but Capella’s mission is more nuanced: To create a network of satellites capable of preventing disasters, boosting commerce, and saving lives.

In 2014, Banazadeh came up with the idea to more closely monitor Earth from a “bird’s perspective” after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing.

“Governments around the world sent ships and vessels to look for this plane, and the tragedy took forever to play out,” he says. “I remember watching TV and thinking, ‘We’ve failed as Homo sapiens if a massive plane has gone missing with 280 fellow human beings on it and we have no idea where it went missing, what happened, and what’s going on.'”

Banazadeh wanted to ensure a disappearance like this could never happen again, so the Stanford grad (MS&E ’16) and Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree started working on satellite technology that could continuously take clear images of the Earth, regardless of weather conditions and time of day. He also started thinking about other applications for the camera-affixed mini-satellites that might benefit commercial and governmental clients.

Below are just a few:

Protect Infrastructures: Pipelines, dams, bridges, utilities, power lines, offshore oil exploration rigs, and other engineering feats abound on Earth. In the interest of public safety, these key infrastructures could be continuously monitored so that utility companies can avoid, say, accidentally digging a hole above a gas pipeline.

Respond to Natural Disasters: Existing satellite technology cannot capture clear pictures through the clouds and inclement weather often associated with natural disasters. With Capella Space images, first responders can act faster and with more accuracy, and insurance companies could have keener depictions of before and after scenarios.

Maritime Monitoring: With 70% of our planet covered by water, the ocean is currently too big to monitor. Yet, according to Banazadeh, the majority of our economic activity is moving through the waters from one country to another. Monitoring that activity is important for insurance companies, suppliers, financial planners, ship operators, and more stakeholders.

At first glance, Capella Space sounds like a futuristic company that’s focused on worlds beyond our planet. But listeners will discover through this episode of Founders & Funders that its mission is quite the opposite. Banazadeh and his crew hope to provide a safer world, better diagnostics, and a visual history of our ever-evolving environment. Listen to this episode of Founders & Funders to learn more.

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