Innovative Partnerships sets sights on space

  • Hon Dr Megan Woods
Research, Science and Innovation

American space innovator LeoLabs has chosen to set up shop in Central Otago, establishing a phased-array radar to track small satellites and space debris – the first in the Southern Hemisphere.

LeoLabs credits its decision to invest in New Zealand in part to the support it received through the Government’s Innovative Partnerships programme.

“I am thrilled to welcome LeoLabs to New Zealand through our Innovative Partnerships programme,” says Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods.

There is increasing small satellite traffic in space and while this presents exciting new opportunities, it needs to be managed responsibly. LeoLabs’ pioneering technology provides high resolution mapping data and services to mitigate the risks of collisions that could potentially create thousands of new particles of space debris and damage expensive equipment.

“The radar will be able to track objects as small as two centimetres in low Earth orbit and it will be one of only three currently operating in the world, in what will eventually become a larger network.

“This Government is committed to developing New Zealand as a hub for high-value, knowledge intensive businesses that create value through innovation and R&D. LeoLabs’ presence in New Zealand will be hugely beneficial to New Zealand’s emerging space industry. It is part of a wider plan within the Innovative Partnerships programme to build a thriving innovation ecosystem attracting R&D particularly in new space, advanced aviation technologies and future foods” says Woods. We are building on the excitement and momentum created by Rocket Lab for kiwi innovators new space.

LeoLabs and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which leads the Innovative Partnerships programme and houses the New Zealand Space Agency, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU commits to work together to grow New Zealand’s space industry and capabilities in space-related R&D, and to support LeoLabs in making connections within New Zealand’s space ecosystem. 

LeoLabs’ entry into New Zealand is another success for Innovative Partnerships. Earlier this year, Zephyr Airworks credited the programme as part of the reason it is testing its revolutionary air taxi technology in New Zealand.

“Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation and our unique expertise, people and technology, coupled with our size and location, offer compelling advantages for international collaboration,” says Dr Woods.

Innovative Partnerships helps future-focused companies and individuals connect, collaborate and innovate in New Zealand. Companies are connected with the right people, businesses, agencies, research organisations and universities, as well as supported through their navigation of central and local governments. Companies are not provided any direct financial incentives through the programme.