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NZ Space Agency to track satellites launched from NZ

01 Jul 2019
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The New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA) will now be able to track all satellites launched from New Zealand, thanks to a partnership with space tech agency LeoLabs.

The NZSA and LeoLabs created a tool with the rather flat name of Space Regulatory and Sustainability Platform that can track objects launched from New Zealand. 

If a satellite has strayed too far and is ‘outside of its regulatory limits’, it could potentially collide with another satellite. The new platform will be able to manage that risk.

That will have huge benefits for future commercial space activity – and for avoiding space debris.

“Lower Earth orbit is rapidly emerging as the focus of commercial space activity and is home to thousands of satellites travelling at extremely high speeds around the globe, providing us with services we rely on every day,” says NZSA leader and MBIE General Manager of Science, Innovation and International Dr Peter Crabtree.

“It’s also home to a growing population of debris, increasing the risk of collisions that could potentially create thousands of new particles of debris and damage expensive equipment. As a launching nation, we have a responsibility to minimise orbital debris and preserve space for future generations. Understanding where the objects that we launch are is the first step towards doing this.”

Commercial space use will become more popular, so it’s important to manage risks. 

Crabtree adds that by ensuring space objects stay within manageable risks, they can also manage risks caused by debris.

Through the use of space tracking tools, countries can show that they’re using space both safely and sustainably.

“Every nation, large or small, that engages in space will need to monitor and ensure responsible behaviour by its commercial and national fleet,” says LeoLabs cofounder and chief technology officer, Dr Mike Nicolls.

“LeoLabs believes that the visualisation and analytics tools built for NZSA’s regulatory mission have broader applicability for all space agencies, and thus the potential to contribute to global best practices. So we look forward together with New Zealand to sharing our progress with others across the international space community.”

The New Zealand Space Agency was established in 2016. As the ‘front door for space activity in New Zealand’, the agency is designed to be the lead government agency for space policy, regulation, and business development. 

The New Zealand Space Agency is housed within the Government’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.