WASHINGTON — Capella Space, a San Francisco-based startup that is the first U.S. commercial company to deploy radar imaging satellites, earlier this year submitted a bid for a Defense Department Small Business Innovation Research contract.
The company has previously worked with the Pentagon’s technology outreach group in Silicon Valley and knew that the military is interested in Capella’s technology. The company is building a constellation of 36 radar satellites that will scan any spot on the planet once every hour and identify objects like small vehicles from space in any weather conditions.
So it came as a surprise when Capella officials heard their bid had been rejected because the SBIR program excludes companies that are majority-owed by venture capitalists.
“We were shocked,” Dan Brophy, the company’s vice president of government services told SpaceNews on Friday. “Despite all the interest in what we’re doing, we were excluded.”
DoD’s decision to deny Capella an SBIR award based on the source of its capital came to the attention of House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), a longtime advocate of Pentagon reforms to lower barriers to small businesses that develop technologies with military utility. He saw Capella’s situation as a textbook ...