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LeoLabs space-tracking tech is coming to Central Otago

03 Oct 18

Central Otago is going to become home to one of the first radars in the Southern Hemisphere to track small satellites and space debris.

LeoLabs is a US space innovator that will launch a phased-array radar to do all the tracking, thanks to the New Zealand Government’s Innovative Partnerships programme.

“Our goal is to build out the LeoLabs global space radar network at a pace to match that threat. New Zealand represents the ideal location and partner to take that next step forward,” comments CEO Dan Ceperley.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods says it’s a thrill to have LeoLabs on board, especially when there’s more space traffic than ever.

But with more small satellite traffic comes more opportunities – and stronger need to manage the technology responsibly.

LeoLabs’ high-resolution mapping data and services will help lessen the risk of collisions that could create thousands of pieces of space debris and damage expensive equipment in the process.

“The radar will be able to track objects as small as two centimetres in low Earth orbit and it will be one of only three currently operating in the world, in what will eventually become a larger network,” she says.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and LeoLabs have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to grow New Zealand’s space industry, as well as capabilities in space-related research and development. It will also support LeoLabs’ effort to make connections in New Zealand’s space ecosystem.

“This Government is committed to developing New Zealand as a hub for high-value, knowledge intensive businesses that create value through innovation and R&D,” Woods says.

“LeoLabs’ presence in New Zealand will be hugely beneficial to New Zealand’s emerging space industry. It is part of a wider plan within the Innovative Partnerships programme to build a thriving innovation ecosystem attracting R&D particularly in new space, advanced aviation technologies and future foods.”

She acknowledges that Rocket Lab has done great things for space innovation and now it’s time to build on the excitement and momentum that Rocket Lab has created for Kiwi innovators.

Earlier this year Zephyr Airworks also announced that it is testing air taxi technology in New Zealand.

“Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation and our unique expertise, people and technology, coupled with our size and location, offer compelling advantages for international collaboration,” says Woods.

Innovative Partnerships helps future-focused companies and individuals connect, collaborate and innovate in New Zealand. Companies are connected with the right people, businesses, agencies, research organisations and universities, as well as supported through their navigation of central and local governments. Companies are not provided any direct financial incentives through the programme.

The phased-array radar announced for New Zealand will complement two existing LeoLabs radars in North America. LeoLabs has been providing commercial SSA services since its founding in 2016. The company estimates completion of the New Zealand radar in mid-2019.