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New pilot enables NZSA to track satellites launched from NZ

The New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA) is continuing to build its capability as a regulator of space activity with a new pilot project which allows officials to see real-time information on the orbital position of satellites launched from New Zealand.

The NZSA, housed within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), has partnered with space situational awareness experts LeoLabs to develop the bespoke tool, dubbed the Space Regulatory and Sustainability Platform, to track objects launched from New Zealand to ensure compliance with permit conditions.

“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 MBIE General Manager of Science, Innovation and International Dr Peter Crabtree, who leads the NZSA.

“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.”

The Platform provides independent, on-going monitoring of satellites and will be able to alert the NZSA when a satellite is outside of its regulatory limits and at risk of collision with other objects.

“By ensuring these objects stay within the expected risk profiles, we develop an understanding of an operator’s compliance record and potential collision risk. We are also meeting our international obligations as a responsible launching state,” says Dr Crabtree.

As the commercial use of space increases, regulators around the world are working on ways to manage the risks caused by debris. The development of this type of monitoring capability demonstrates best practice and leadership in the safe and sustainable use of space.

“Every nation, large or small, that engages in space will need to monitor and ensure responsible behaviour by its commercial and national fleet. 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,” says Dr Mike Nicolls, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at LeoLabs.


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