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Silicon Valley start up unveils Kiwi Space Radar

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 17 October 2019, 8:48 am

The first commercial radar to track objects smaller than 10cms in space was officially opened in Naseby, Central Otago this week. Named the Kiwi Space Radar (KSR), it is designed to track the full range of threats to satellites from orbital debris.

KSR is part of a network of radars built by LeoLabs (Leo stands for 'Low Earth Orbit'), a Silicon Valley startup that has set up an operation in New Zealand, in collaboration with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

LeoLabs Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Michael Nicolls is bullish about what KSR can achieve. "The Kiwi Space Radar raises the bar on addressing the threat of collisions that have never before been tracked in LEO," he says.

"By operating at a higher frequency than our earlier sensors, the KSR was designed to track an estimated 250,000 additional objects down to two centimetres in size. These objects account for most of the risk of collisions in space, and KSR is the first big step towards addressing that risk. It will enable thousands of new satellites to safely use LEO."

The KSR was officially opened yesterday, and an announcement from MBIE outlines the commercial benefits of what is being described as the first 'next generation' space radar outside of the United States.

"Customers include commercial satellite operators, government regulatory and space agencies, and satellite management services firms. It also has the potential to open up whole new market segments, in for example, insurance companies offering bespoke space-related services."

General Manager, Science, Innovation and International and head of the New Zealand Space Agency Peter Crabtree, says that as New Zealand's space industry grows, the need to build space sector capability is critical.

"At the outset of this partnership (with LeoLabs) we were clear that a key outcome would be improving our understanding and capability in space situational awareness, an important step for the New Zealand Space Agency, particularly with respect to our international obligations as a launching state," he says.

LeoLabs Co-founder and CEO Dan Ceperley says LeoLab's mission is to "prove a backdrop of data-driven transparency and certainty to support satellite operators, regulators, space agencies, and industries that rely on satellite services."

Ceperley also praised the collaborative approach to building New Zealand's space sector. "A benefit of our presence in New Zealand is that we've had the opportunity to engage across many communities, ranging from Ministerial levels to local communities, including schools, local government, entrepreneurs, and universities. We plan to engage in this same "community-based" model as we expand to other parts of the world going forward."

You can read more about LeoLab's plans for its KSR here.


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