The LeoLabs dashboard shown offers alerts when Chinese, Iranian or Russian spacecraft maneuver in low Earth orbit. Credit: LeoLabs

COLORADO SPRINGS – A LeoLabs maneuver-detection dashboard displayed at the 38th Space Symposium tracked the location of about 30 Chinese, Iranian and Russian spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.

The dashboard showed, for example, an experimental Chinese spaceplane that had lowered its altitude in the last two weeks from about 600 kilometers to about 300 kilometers.

“We believe this spacecraft is getting ready to reenter,” Kohei Fujimoto, director of LeoLabs Japan, told SpaceNews.

Detecting Maneuvers

Whenever one of the Chinese, Iranian or Russian spacecraft maneuvered and then passed over one of LeoLabs’ six radar sites around the world, the dashboard highlighted the move, estimated its timing and displayed the spacecrat’s new orbital parameters.

“If you’re unaware of maneuvers, they can catch you by surprise,” said Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs CEO and co-founder. “But most of them are routine. If you get out in advance of it and you’re not surprised, that’s where we can drive sustainability and deterrence. If there are no surprises, that takes down the likelihood of conflict and debris-generating activities in space.”

LeoLabs tracks objects in low-Earth orbit with phased array radars in Alaska, Australia, Portugal’s Azores archipelagoNew ZealandTexas and Costa Rica. An additional radar in Argentina is scheduled to come online this year.

Software Layers

In addition, LeoLabs has developed software to sifts through the radar data to map low-Earth orbit and provide, what Ceperley calls, “space behavior awareness at scale.”

The population of operational satellites in low-Earth orbit is growing rapidly.  

“Now, there’s close to 7,000 and we should hit that 10,000-satellite mark this year,” Ceperley said. To prevent on-orbit collisions, “everything has to scale, including space domain awareness and space traffic management,” he added.

LeoLabs processes the radar data quickly thanks in part to cloud computing.

“You can process the data at scale because we’re working in the cloud,” Ceperley said. “It’s very straightforward to scale up as the number of satellites grows.”

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...