LeoLabs Inc., a Silicon Valley startup preparing to build a worldwide network of phased-array radars to detect and track objects in low Earth orbit, plans to install a radar at Texas’ Midland International Air and Space Port, according to a Sept. 13 announcement.
Low Earth orbit is expected to get more crowded as companies begin to launch large constellations of small satellites to provide communications, Earth observation, weather data and vehicle tracking services. As a result, LeoLabs and other firms are establishing commercial services to help satellite customers steer clear of orbital debris and other spacecraft.
Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs chief executive, declined to comment on the agreement with Midland or his company’s plans. However, the firm describes its business plans on an employment website.
“LeoLabs™ Tracking as a Service (TaaS) will address this need with a worldwide network of phased-array radars and a data analytics service that will address the shortcomings of current data sources by (a) tracking 10x more debris than is currently tracked and (b) rapidly responding to urgent customer requests,” according to the listing on Angel.co. “LeoLabs™ TaaS also includes other services – quickly tracking newly launched satellites, verifying deployments, verifying maneuvers, and troubleshooting satellite malfunctions.”
An article in the Midland Reporter-Telegram provides additional information on LeoLabs’ plans in Texas. “The city will lease the 150-foot by 100-foot property for $12,000 a year,” according to the Sept. 12 article. Midland also agreed to pay LeoLabs $12,000 a year to support the firm’s advertising and marketing campaigns, the article added.
“The $1.5 million radar facility will be built on a construction pad at T-Bar, a place chosen because it has little radio interference,” according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram. T-Bar Ranch is southwest of Midland.
The article goes on to say that LeoLabs plans to operate the radar remotely and that the firm is establishing another radar in Alaska to track debris in polar orbit.
LeoLabs, based in Menlo Park, California, is building phased array radars with technology developed by SRI International, an independent nonprofit research organization based in Menlo Park, California.
LeoLabs was founded in June by three SRI veterans: Michael Nicolls, former staff scientist and program manager in SRI’s Center for Geospace Studies; Ceperley, SRI’s former space debris tracking program director; and John Buonocore, former SRI principal research engineer.
SRI builds cameras and imaging equipment for the U.S. Strategic Command’s Ground Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System, a network of telescopes, sensors and computers to track objects in orbit.