How Capella Space Produces World Class Satellite Data with the Help of Weights & Biases
"You just add some log calls and you’re there. It was very refreshing for me."
About Capella Space
Founded in 2016, Capella Space is an aerospace and satellite imaging company specializing in synthetic aperture radar (SAR). They launch and maintain their own satellites, collecting SAR data for a wide array of use cases, including disaster response, maritime domain awareness, defense, intelligence, and more. To understand why they’re so successful, you have to first understand the data they collect.
Why SAR is Different
Most of us are familiar with satellites that take pictures from orbit. After all, we’ve been seeing images like this our whole lives. But if you’ve ever run an optical satellite imagery project or dug into the data here, you probably understand that there are two deeply frustrating factors attendant to all of these projects: weather and nighttime.
See, more than 75% the earth is covered by clouds or darkness at any given time. This renders large swaths of optical satellite data virtually unusable. That means areas of interest could be obscured for hours, if not days, essentially inaccessible from the perspective of traditional satellite imagery.
Say you’re monitoring an oil rig to make sure there aren’t any leaks or spills. If there’s a storm over that rig or just hours of heavy cloud cover, you could lose precious time to fix a problem and avert catastrophe. And that’s just one example. This type of intelligence is priceless to governments that need objective and timely information to keep the peace and save lives. Conservation groups need visibility where our planet’s ecosystems are at risk to drive more effective policy.
Synthetic aperture radar is an elegant solution. Unlike optical imagery, Capella Space uses microwave remote sensing to measure the reflectance of energy that can pierce clouds and operate at night, providing its own source of illumination. Capella’s very high-resolution SAR data combined with robust infrastructure allow its customers to see anywhere on the planet when and where they need information at very high speeds. In other words, it can “see” things that traditional satellite imagery simply can’t.
The team that handles these data at Capella Space is agile and collaborative. They often need to build proofs of concepts, communicate their findings across their organization, and iterate quickly. That’s where Weights & Biases comes in.
Accelerating Deep Learning with W&B
Capella Space has used other tools for experiment tracking but found them clunky and onerous. They wanted something faster and easier to implement and they didn’t want to build something in-house either. It was a big challenge, and one that was slowing down their productivity. One team member had used W&B as a PhD student and suggested they give it a try. That was that.
“You just add some log calls and you’re there,” said Ganesh Yalla, Data Science Lead at Capella Space. “It was very refreshing for me.”
In other words, an intuitive tracking and collaboration tool that didn’t require much work to implement and log model experiments was an ideal fit.
And because Capella Space is working on lots of projects and POCs at any given time, moving quickly and logging everything as they work lets them validate their experiments and push the best products live in a timely manner. It provides them with time to focus on their core competencies, such as ensuring that their models are training the way they need them to and to spend their time building products and datasets rather than investing time on rote tasks such as with logging and tracking.
Additionally, the team at Capella Space makes good use of W&B Reports. These reports give them an easy way to communicate their findings to not just their distributed, international data and ML teams, but the engineering team and organization as a whole.
In the end, Capella Space needed something that was both powerful but easy to implement and use. Weights & Biases gave them exactly that.
What’s Next for Capella Space
Today Capella Space is the highest resolution commercial SAR provider in the world. The company launches new satellites that bring down information to Earth at ultra-low latency and each additional satellite improves the constellation’s revisit – the ability to observe a single location on Earth repeatedly.
Consistent, reliable and precise revisit is the key to understanding change and empowering better decisions that improve our economy, environment and security. SAR is an excellent dataset for detecting, monitoring and analyzing change and we look forward to seeing the insights and trends the company will discover with its imagery and future analytics products.
W&B helped facilitate the rapid experimentation that resulted in a 2021 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS) paper authored by the Capella Space team. You can read that work here.