In contrast to LeoLabs' West Australian Space Radar shaped like a halfpipe, the new S-band 2-D Direct Radiating Array is flat and square. Credit: LeoLabs

WASHINGTON – LeoLabs announced plans March 13 to enhance tracking of space objects over the Southern Hemisphere with a new radar in Argentina.

The S-band radar, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, will be located on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.

“The Southern Hemisphere has not been well covered for space safety and space domain awareness,” LeoLabs CEO Dan Ceperley told SpaceNews. “There are a lot of conjunctions close to the North Pole and the South Pole. This radar will make a very meaningful improvement in the tracking of those conjunctions.”

Currently, LeoLabs tracks objects in low-Earth orbit with phased array radars in Alaska, Australia, Portugal’s Azores archipelagoNew ZealandTexas and Costa Rica.

High-Risk Conjunctions

The proliferation of satellites and debris traveling over Earth’s poles is creating high-risk conjunctions, particularly at latitudes of more than 60 degrees. Adding a radar in Argentina will help LeoLabs obtain multiple daily views of individual space objects.

“It’s that ability to check in frequently on the satellites that enables us to drive space safety,” Ceperley said. “In the Northern Hemisphere, we have the Alaska radar site. It’s harder to find sites close to Antarctica.”

Tierra del Fuego is about 4,700 kilometers from Antarctica.

24 Radar Sites

When LeoLabs was established, its founders intended to track satellites and debris with radars at six international sites. Argentina marks the seventh in a network now expected to include 24 sites.

“The goal to go out to 24 sites is a recognition that the space industry is dramatically scaling,” Ceperley said. “That’s why we’re going to keep going with more sites.”

In addition, LeoLabs’ latest radars are designed to spot objects as small as 2 centimeters across.  

“There’s a lot of untracked debris,” Ceperley said. “We want to expand the LEO catalog to include smaller and smaller debris.”

Working with Argentina

“It’s a privilege to build this radar site in Argentina and contribute to this country’s history of space exploration and stewardship,” Ceperley said in a statement. “We are committed to our partners in Argentina and are eager to help support the space industry here and in South America more broadly.” 

Jorge Argüello, Argentina’s U.S. ambassador, said in a statement, “Our space sector is highly valued and the interaction of LeoLabs experts with our engineers has been virtuous and enriching. It is very important to address the issue of sustainability in the space sector, and this radar contributes to that regard.” 

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...