A screenshot captures the Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Florida while carrying 88 tiny satellites, including one from Santa Barbara firm Umbra.
A screenshot captures the Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Florida on Wednesday while carrying 88 tiny satellites, including one from Santa Barbara firm Umbra.

Launching a huge milestone for a Santa Barbara firm, a Falcon rocket that lifted off Wednesday from Florida carried Umbra’s inaugural microsatellite to collect highly detailed radar images of Earth from space for assorted customers.

The Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket, with the first-stage booster making its eighth flight, blasted off at approximately 12:30 p.m. (PDT) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

“Thanks for the ride,” Umbra representatives said on Twitter after the liftoff. 

Dubbed SpaceX Transporter-2 because of being a dedicated rideshare mission, the rocket carried 88 small and extremely small satellites for various customers.

The cargo included the Umbra craft to collect synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images for government and private customers.

“Our goal with these rideshare flights is to provide small satellite operators with competitive pricing, increase the flight opportunities and flexibility,” SpaceX representatives said, adding that the firm plans three per year to provide regular access to orbit for the tiny spacecraft.

About one hour following liftoff and after the rocket completed 10 releases, an announcer called out the deployment of the Santa Barbara firm’s microsatellite, “Umbra SAR, separation confirmed,” a key milestone.

“We’ve made contact with our spacecraft and verified all systems are nominal,” Umbra officials later said on Twitter. “Over the coming days, we will go through checkouts on our spacecraft systems and commission Umbra-2001, our first commercial SAR satellite.”

Liftoff marked a new phase after nearly six years of “stealth development” for Umbra, a firm founded by two Santa Barbara high school graduates intending to create a unique commercial imagery market. In the past, those images were restricted to government satellites and costly. 

“Today represents the culmination of a years-long dream,” said Gabe Dominocielo, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Umbra. “We’re giving our customers the tools and data they need to solve critical problems and to help make the world a better place. 

“Researchers, businesses, and defense agencies will have the full power of next-gen satellite imagery at their fingertips. I am grateful to all of the incredible Umbra employees who made this possible, and we are all looking forward to launching our next groups of satellites to complete our constellation.” 

He and Santa Barbara friend and engineer David Langan co-founded Umbra.

The launch of a second spacecraft is planned within the next few months as Umbra eventually hopes to have a constellation with a minimum of 24 satellites.

“We’re going to start an extremely aggressive launch schedule,” Dominocielo said. 

Upon reaching orbit, the Umbra satellite’s first chores will include deploying the patented antenna, expanding from its dorm fridge-size launch configuration into a parabolic dish larger than an SUV, Dominocielo said. The satellite’s antenna will unfurl to 10 square meters (108 square feet) for operations. 

The satellite’s 1,200MHz bandwidth and powerful radar technology can see at night and through dense clouds, which Umbra representatives say means it can generate the highest resolution radar images ever sold on the commercial market.

With its first satellite on orbit, Umbra now will begin lining up customers to Canopy, a self-service tasking platform to direct satellites to generate high-quality images from any spot on the globe.

The Umbra constellation’s users will be able to remotely access a variety of conditions, such as wildlife habitat protection, track pollution and plastic waste, detect oil spills, gather data for the military, provide live flooding estimation during storms, and more. 

Many of those uses will be applicable in their hometown, which has experienced fires, oil spills and a mudslide in recent years.

“Having a company that’s an end-to-end spacecraft and mission — it’s very cool where we’ve got our own system and we have  a service out of Santa Barbara where we’re delivering the data,” Dominocielo said. “The reality is that data that we are selling and providing is really, really meaningful to the Central Coast.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.