International Space Station, NASA, Anti-satellite weapon Getting Crowded, So This Startup Built a Solution

Lets begin with: the simplest of space math. From 1960 to 2020, the number of satellites in orbit increased at a slow and steady pace.. We went from zero satellites to about 2500 satellites zipping by over our heads. By the end of 2021. However, that number had doubled to 5000., And this is not an anomaly. 5000 will soon turn to 10000 and then deep breaths, 100000 satellites.. If companies like SpaceX, Amazon and many others get their way, most of these satellites will settle in low earth orbit, which is right. Here., It might seem like a roomy enough place, but its already filled with those existing satellites, leftover rocket bodies and debris from collisions in some countries. Russia were looking at. You have only made matters worse by firing missiles into space and blowing things up.. What we have here is a real problem, the kind of problem that could ruin space now and for many years into the future.. If only someone somewhere was doing something about it.. Today I am going to go visit. A company called LeoLabs its a startup based right here in Silicon Valley.. You can think of them as a sci. Fi super modern air traffic control system., Theyve built some technology that tracks everything in space rocket bodies that have gone up there, satellites all the debris from things that have collided and exploded. Its kind of an essential technology that were going to need in the coming years. As space fills with more and more stuff.

And so Im going to head into their office and try and figure out how this technology works. The core of what we do is tracking all the satellites, all the pieces of debris in low Earth orbit and the reason Were in business is space is gone into space, race, 2.0., And so the numbers of satellites are scaling. Up., The risk from debris is scaling up., None of the tracking systems were built to scale. And the reason we started the company is because we knew how to build scalable tracking systems., So were in the process of doing that. Dan and his co founders started LeoLabs. In 2015 – and they appeared just in the nick of time., The success of Elon Musks Space X triggered a revolution in the space industry. Almost out of nowhere. The world became awash in rocket and satellite startups. More people than ever before, want to put more stuff than ever before into orbit.. The LeoLabs founders saw this frenzy of activity coming, and they bet that we would soon need better systems for tracking things in space.. You guys were ahead of the game in kind of predicting where this economy was going., Yeah thats the whole reason were in business.. The number of satellites has gone up so dramatically.. We focus on low Earth orbit so kind of the closest 2000 kilometers to the surface of the earth. Thats, where the revolution in space is happened. Its where the business revolution is.

Three years ago, there were 800 functional satellites in that part of space.. Now theres close to 4000.. On top of that, there are about 15000 pieces of debris tracked today, dead, satellites, dead rocket bodies and fragments of it. And theres been weapons. Tests theres been collisions on top of those 15000 pieces of debris, theres about 250000 critical, but untracked pieces of debris up there today.. So a big part of what weve set out to do is track that small stuff and bring it into the safety picture.. Today. Leolabs has raised more than 100 million.. A lot of that money is going toward the construction of a network of radars placed around the world. Its these radar systems that look up at the sky and spot and catalog objects as they orbit.. You need this global network of radars.. If youve got one radar site, you can check in on a satellite about twice a day., So every 12 hours thats a long time to wait.. Really you need sites around the world.. You know, weve got four sites. Today. Were going to have more than 20 sites over the next few years.. So today you guys are in like Midland, Texas, Costa Rica, Alaska and New Zealand. Thats, right., OK, yeah. And then weve got three more sites under construction.. A big part of LeoLabs mission is not just tracking objects in space, but actually making sure that satellites dont collide into each other.. Satellite companies like Space X and Planet Labs, pay to find out where their satellites are and if theyre about to hit something.

A lot of the satellites have propulsion systems.. They can kind of move to get out of the way of each other or change their orbit. A little bit. Its a service that you guys offer to help these companies know how to maneuver the machines. Yeah. We offer a collision avoidance service. Its a subscription service.. Well, send you an alert up to seven days in advance.. If your satellites going to come dangerously close to a piece of debris or another satellite. And most satellites have thruster on board a chemical rocket or an electric thruster. Companies have been doing that for decades. Moving satellites around., But its sort of like a harder problem. Now.. The risk of a collision is a lot higher now, just because weve installed so much more hardware into space.. You have a big collision. It creates a cloud of debris., And now all the other satellites are flying through this whizzing mess of debris.. The other element of it is the need for tracking all the small debris as well, as we add all of the new satellite into space, the risks of a collision. The likelihood of the collisions going up. Right now were putting out about 400 million collision alerts per month in low Earth orbit.. So these are either the first alert of collisions happened or follow ups, letting you You said, 4 …, 400, 400, million. Whats that mean youre. Sending out 400 million … emails, You can get them over email.

, Thats kind of the legacy way of doing it. Its machine to machine.. So we push out these alerts through our API and then the satellite operators. These days, their fleets are automated., So when we send them an alert, they can decide to nudge, their satellite again. Or to a different time, to avoid the collision. To really understand how the LeoLab Service works. It would be super helpful to have an astronaut someone who spent time aboard the International Space Station dodging debris on a daily basis. And, as luck would have it, I found just such a human. Im, Ed Lu. Im, one of the co founders of LeoLabs., And you Are an astronaut. I am a former NASA astronaut.. I flew three times in space two times on the space shuttle. Then I launched on a Soyuz mission to ISS immediately following the Columbia disaster. When youre on the ISS. You guys actually do get pelted by debris. Right. Yeah things do hit the ISS. I remember looking out on the solar arrays and you can see holes in them.. In fact, I remember doing a spacewalk coming down a railing and theres a thing. It looks like a bullet hole in one of the railings., So I literally hit a railing, a steel railing.. Was it experiences like that that drew you to this start up or how did you end up getting involved with LeoLabs Absolutely.? So at the time the number one danger to crews on ISS was orbital debris.

, And to this day it is the number one danger according to NASAs own figures., And the reason is because the vast majority of objects that are large enough to go through the hull Should they hit the ISS were not tracked or are not tracked by the US government., And so this company was created to track those. The vast majority of objects, smaller than our tracked by the Department of Defense. And because theyre a danger not only to the astronauts. But to all of development of low Earth orbit., As both Dan and Ed mentioned, Russia made the space issue all too clear. Last year. It fired a missile at one of its own satellites because well because it could. And now everyone has been left to deal with the consequences.. So what were looking at here is the Earth, and these are LeoLabs. Radars are tracking.. The orbit of this satellite Cosmos. 1408 was roughly along this line and when you break it up everything else kind of ends up following that path. Thats, why all this stuff is kind of looking like this.. So these are all the objects were tracking. Whenever any one of these things goes through one of these beams, we we recalculate its orbit.. Each of these beams can track about 2000 objects per hour., Youve got the green, are actual satellites. Yeah. Yep., The yellow are rocket, bodies., Yep. And the red is debris. Yep. And then blue is unknown Yeah.

, Its important that you put your radars all around the earth Because thats, how you get the coverage. You want to get to the southern hemisphere. And thats because well objects. They spend half of their time in the Southern Hemisphere and historically, people have left their trash up there.. So those are dead. Things., The largest of the current constellations, is StarLink.. They are covering the earth in these things. Theres, more than 2000 of these things already and theyre launching them in groups of 60 every couple of weeks.. This is a big problem for satellite operators when they launch. And one of these rocket spits out 30 40 50 … 100 satellites., Which one is theirs right, Because theyre not all right. So one of the services that weve been providing commercially to companies is hey figure out which one is which. Like. If you look at this particular picture, youd be like Oh, were already fd.. This place is jam packed., But these … This is very misleading. Yeah.. So these are much larger. For the purposes of display.. Again something thats the size of you know China right, Yeah. Yeah., You know the size of a satellite is going to be really small. Itd be less than a pixel.. You couldnt see it.. Ok, so keep in mind that theres a lot of satellites up there.. There are many many thousands of satellites but theyre, not this big.. While my space math is simple. This space math is hard.

. It takes brainiac people like Bonnie here to find out when satellites might collide. As an astro person, I get to work on algorithms and those algorithms are whats going to go into the you know, server. And its going to produce some sort of alerts in the alerts On the CDMs., So the conjunction data messages., The heart of the algorithm, is math and physics.. We have two satellite in orbit and we know the path. And when they come through our radar, we get an approximation for position and velocity.. So we know how fast these guys are going, and you know where theyre going to go.. If we have two of them going on a collision course, then we run something that is called like the probability of collision, which is going to tell us Hey at what exact time these guys are going to come close and how far off theyre going to be. One of the things that you can see like the work that I do right now is going into the safety of flight and looking for conjunctions.. So if you are satellite operator, you know the name of your satellites, so you can just type it here in object. One and then, if you suspect that you might be colliding with like another satellite that you already know. So, for example, I dont know one of the StarLinks from Space X or one of the Doves from Planet or anything you could just type.

The other object here in search. Lets just say that you have no idea. And lets just say that you are me a Colombian citizen that is trying to find out whats going on with that one and only Colombian satellite that we have in orbit. Lets. Look it out., So we go FACSAT and there he is.. We just want to see whats coming in around FACSAT., So we do search. and we have a potential collision with a StarLink and you can see when that is going to happen in the future.. We can click on View and its going to take us to a page that is called an analysis report.. It is going to show you the ground station, so you can see what the path is that the two satellites are actually following.. So it tells you the exact time when we think its going to collide. It gives you the miss distance., And so you know, 20 kilometers in space is nothing like nothing at all., And so the actual collision probability is actually low., And so we know its not like super high risk.. Without this type of work, space runs the risk of becoming unusable.. Humans will have messed up low Earth orbit in much the same way that we messed up planet Earth.. This debris is a big issue. Theres. This thing called the Kessler Syndrome, I think, is what they call it right. Is that syndrome the right yeah? It is the Kessler Syndrome.

. So tell me how that works., I mean its this idea of kind of cascading debris clouds right And the idea almost like a nuclear chain reaction of one piece of debris hitting another piece of debris and a cascade. I dont think were close to an overall risk Of Leo going into that., There are bad neighborhoods in space, though. And so, in effect, were becoming a space realtor.. We can tell you where the bad neighborhoods are and where the good neighborhoods are between about 800 and 900 kilometers altitude Theres been some bad events. Theres been weapons tests where a satellite was blown up. Theres been breakup events and the like., So theres just theres more Debris there. So, if youre going to put out new satellites youre going to launch these satellites, dont put them there put them in other regions of space. The situations manageable right now, but we do need to manage it. Better. Theres satellites, going into all different orbits.. You see them going north south and south north and kind of east west and everything in between. And its just not organized. With a bit of organization it can …. I think we can put a lot more satellites into space. Weve, seen SpaceX with its StarLink communication system.. They want to put up something like on the order of like 10000 or more satellites and theyre, not alone., Theres, multiple companies and countries that want to put up tens of thousands of satellites for comms networks and all sorts of things.

. And so if everybody gets their wishes and theres 100000 satellites in low earth orbit like is that actually feasible to manage? If we have the right technology, I think we can totally manage it. Thats the exciting part about this. Second space race is its commercial.. The leaders in it are bringing new commercial services to market and theyre leveraging new technology. Its Moores Law brought to space. Like you said five ten years ago, youd spend ten years designing and building a satellite.. You run it for 20 years., And so at the end, your technology would be 30 years. Old. And now companies are refreshing, their satellite design every year and launching new satellites every year., Its like keeping up with the latest iPhone.. I mean youre, getting new new chips. New sensors, new cameras, all the time., Exactly new cameras, new computers, new radios., Its awesome. To me – were building like a computing shell around the earth. To sort of analyze it in ways. We never have before whether its photographing whats happening with the rainforest and water and the movement of people and roadways or the communication systems. Its kind of like this new Internet layer around us. Thats how I think about it. Yeah, I think about it, the same way.. Its in another way to look at is business on Earth is just stepping into space in a big way for the first time. So now, just normal day to day stuffs getting routed through space, and that means its communications networks.

Cameras. Yeah everything you said.. This is the computer revolution in 1990 happening in space. Yeah.

What do you think?

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