SAN FRANCISCO – LeoLabs plans to install its next phased array radar in New Zealand, marking the space mapping startup’s first move into the Southern Hemisphere.
While announcing the news Sept. 29, LeoLabs revealed that the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund contributed to its recent $13 million Series A funding round and that the Silicon Valley startup forged an agreement with New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to encourage expansion of the nation’s fledgling space industry.
LeoLabs plans to begin operating the new radar, which is designed to track objects as small as two centimeters, at a site in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island in 2019.
“There is no phased array radar for tracking objects in space in the Southern Hemisphere,” Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, told SpaceNews. “The data quality is not as good in the Southern Hemisphere. The new radar is a big step toward improving the quality of collision-prevention and tracking services.”
LeoLabs currently tracks spacecraft and debris ten centimeters and larger in low Earth orbit with phased-array radars in Midland, Texas, and Fairbanks, Alaska. Within a couple of years, LeoLabs plans to operate six radars around the world capable of tracking satellites and space debris two centimeters or larger, an estimated 250,000 objects.
The New Zealand radar will be LeoLabs’ first with modifications, including higher frequency, to track objects as small as two centimeters. “We’ve learned a lot since we rolled out the Midland Space Radar” in 2017, Ceperley said.
With a radar in the Southern Hemisphere, LeoLabs will have more daily opportunities to check on satellites in orbit, which is particularly important in the first days and weeks after a satellite is launched, Ceperley said.
LeoLabs and New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have yet to hammer out details of the new partnership.
“We are seeing the beginnings of this cluster of space activity in New Zealand with RocketLab and more space startups,” Cepereley said. “I’d like to see the LeoLabs platform drive a new round of innovation in applications and software development coupled in some cases with new satellite constellations.
LeoLabs hopes to form similar agreements with other nations.
“We are looking to take the same sort of partnership we are developing in New Zealand to other locations around the world,” Ceperley said.