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Case Study LeoLabs

Making the business revolution in low earth orbit sustainable

LeoLabs is the company that protects satellites, satellite companies, launching states, and the space environment from collisions and debris

Problem and Challenge

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is the World’s newest economy. Venture investment is fueling a new gold rush that is causing companies to put satellites into orbit.

In addition to satellites, there are 250,000 pieces of catastrophic debris in orbit today, and debris as small as two centimeters can shatter a satellite and add 25% more debris to LEO instantly.

Solution and Outcome

While working at SRI International to develop Advanced Modular, Incoherent Scatter Radar (AMISR) technology, some of the researchers demonstrated that AMISR could be used as the basis for high-quality space traffic monitoring systems.

By combining AMISR technology with a cloud-based SaaS platform, radar data was converted into actionable information that could be used to prevent orbital collisions.

Although space used to be primarily the domain of giant government space agencies and defense organizations, advances in technology such the development of SmallSat and CubeSat technology has made satellites a critical part of services delivered by private companies and small space agencies.

These new, venture-backed companies are delivering revolutionary new services, such as broadband Internet service to the entire world, Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, daily imaging of the entire planet, and continuous maritime monitoring to detect illegal fishing and illegal shipping.

While getting technology into LEO has become easier, as more objects are launched into orbit, the consequences of orbital collisions increase significantly. In order to help satellite operators avoid orbital collisions, LeoLabs, an SRI spin-off company ⁠— founded in 2016 ⁠— created a commercial SaaS satellite tracking service to fit the needs of LEO SmallSat and CubeSat operators, mega-constellation providers, regulators, space agencies, and defense organizations.

While getting technology into LEO has become easier, as more objects are launched into orbit, the consequences of orbital collisions increase significantly. In order to help satellite operators avoid orbital collisions, LeoLabs, an SRI spin-off company ⁠— founded in 2016 ⁠— created a commercial SaaS satellite tracking service to fit the needs of LEO SmallSat and CubeSat operators, mega-constellation providers, regulators, space agencies, and defense organizations.

The LeoLabs patented phased-array radars and tracking system are made possible by AMISR (advanced, modular, incoherent scatter radar) technology, which has SRI heritage from the 1990’s and went into active development in the early 2000’s. AMISR technology was originally developed by SRI researchers to make it easier and less costly for researchers to analyze and measure the Earth’s ionosphere and upper atmosphere.

By using AMISR technology, LeoLabs is able to acquire radar data and then turn it into actionable alerts to prevent dangerous situations, real-time satellite trajectories for executing satellite operations, and archives of all activities in LEO for investigations and after-action reviews.

September 2019

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