LeoLabs completed construction in 2019 of its Kiwi Space Radar to track objects in low-Earth orbit as small as two centimeters. The new radar is located in the Central Otago region of New Zealand's south island. Credit: LeoLabs

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Space mapping startup LeoLabs announced a multimillion-dollar contract May 24 to provide space domain awareness data, services and training to the Japan Air Self Dense Force.

“We are honored to be working with the Japan Ministry of Defense,” Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs CEO and co-founder, told SpaceNews. “This is actually the first allied ministry of defense that is using our commercial services in a big way. It sets a good precedent.”

The contract gives the Japan Air Self Defense Force access to data gathered by LeoLab’s global network of phased array radars as well as training on LeoLabs’ tracking, monitoring and collision-avoidance services.

“One of the important things about working with us is they can train on real live data,” Ceperley said.

LeoLabs operates radars in Alaska, New ZealandTexas and Costa Rica and has radars under construction in Australia and the Azores archipelago.

Operators of 60 percent of the satellites in low-Earth orbit, including U.S. military organizations and constellation operators OneWeb, Planet and SpaceX Starlink, rely on LeoLabs services.

LeoLabs provides customers with messages when potential collisions are detected, and screens planned maneuvers to ensure they do not lead to conjunctions.

LeoLabs is continuing to expand its network and services in light of recent activity in low-Earth orbit, including the expansion of broadband and Earth-observation constellations and the Russian antisatellite weapon test.

“The space industry is scaling up with hundreds of new satellites,” Ceperley said. “It’s primarily driven by commercial activity. However, the threat environment is growing as well. We see proximity operations being tested by Russia and by China. We see a lot of new launches from around the world, not all of which are commercial. That’s a strong reason for nations to keep scaling up space domain awareness services.”

In addition to tracking activity in low-Earth orbit, LeoLabs tracks rocket launches and atmospheric reentry of satellites and rocket stages.

“As our sensor network continues to proliferate around the world, we are rapidly investing in analytics and tools that will scale to deliver timely updates on critical events in LEO,” Ceperley said in a statement.

LeoLabs did not disclose the value of the Japan Air Self Defense subscription, simply referring to it as a multimillion-dollar contract.

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...