LeoLabs planning to triple number of radar sites for space debris tracking by early 2020s

by

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — LeoLabs, a company using radar sites to track satellites and space debris in low Earth orbit, plans to increase its number of sites from two to six over the next few years. 

Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs founder and chief executive, said the company wants to scale up its space situational awareness capabilities so it can monitor large constellations of broadband satellites that SpaceX, OneWeb and others are preparing and launching. 

“To complete the network, we’re looking at the next few years,” Ceperley said in an interview at the Satellite Innovation conference here. “We really need to be fully online as a lot of these large constellations hit their peak stride. We are right on schedule with that.”

OneWeb plans to launch hundreds of small broadband satellites next year, and SpaceX may launch more than 1,000 for its Starlink network. Telesat Canada wants to have monthly launches for its broadband constellation to reach 300 satellites in 2023. 

LeoLabs has radar sites online in Alaska and Texas, and a third under construction in New Zealand. Ceperley declined to say where the next three radar sites will be located. 

With six radars, the number of objects LeoLabs tracks is projected to grow from 13,000 to around 250,000, he said. LeoLabs can currently track objects as small as 10 centimeters. The new radars will enable the company to track objects as small as two centimeters, he said.

“The next radar that’s under construction in New Zealand is going to be the first that’s equipped to do that,” Ceperley said. “It’s our next-generation technology.”

Ceperley said LeoLabs demonstrated it can build radar sites fast with its Texas installation, which went from breaking ground to delivering data in six months. Each radar is remotely operated and highly automated to reduce costs, he said. 

Having six radars will also mean LeoLabs can track satellites and space debris with revisit rates measured in hours instead of days, Ceperley said. Additionally, that number ensures enough coverage that LeoLabs can take a site offline for repairs or upgrades without interrupting service, he said.