The number of objects in space has increased dramatically over the past thirty years, and much of that is because commercial companies have discovered new business cases and discovered cheaper ways to get to space.
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been growing problems, such as increased congestion in orbit. For commercial satellite operators, the biggest concern is usually a collision with another object; For the U.S. Space Force, it’s making sure U.S. defense and allies know where objects are in space, what they’re doing, and who put them there.
For most of the time we’ve been sending things into space, object tracking and characterization has been under the auspices of the Department of Defense. But a host of companies have emerged that have realized the commercial potential of providing critical intelligence about objects in orbit.
One of those companies is LeoLabs. The nine-year-old startup has built a 10-site radar network spanning both hemispheres to collect data on more than 20,000 objects in low-Earth orbit, as well as a suite of products ranging from simple precision tracking to real-time alerts if Your satellite is at risk of collision.
The company started the year strong, deposit a new contract from NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce that will help inform the agency’s important Space Traffic Coordination System initiative. Building on that momentum, LeoLabs announced today that it closed on a $29 million extension to its $65 million Series B which closed in the summer of 2021.
LeoLabs raised the new capital to fund the growth of AI technology, which makes sense since its insights are the lifeblood of the business. Defense customers integrate this knowledge into command operations, while commercial operators use this information to inform mission planning and spaceflight safety analysis.
“We have already applied AI models to detect in-orbit maneuvers in real time, categorize objects, characterize ‘unknown’ objects, and analyze patterns of life in recently launched objects,” founder and CEO Dan Ceperley told TechCrunch. “As the number of objects and activities in LEO continues to grow, operators are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. “The tools we are developing will help the industry leverage automation and advanced analytics to keep pace with this rapid growth.”
He said the new investment will also boost the development of new radar technologies that will be able to provide coverage of even smaller fragments of orbital debris, as well as track “non-cooperative” launch activities in very low Earth orbits. This last piece is of particular interest to the US Space Force, because it refers to launches that are not coordinated with the US or its allies, such as China, which keeps its space activity notoriously secretive.
The round, which LeoLabs said was oversubscribed, was led by GP Bullhound, with participation from new investors 1941 and Dolby Family Ventures. It was also backed by existing investors including Insight Partners, Velvet Sea Ventures, Space Capital and AngelList Syndicate led by Dylan Taylor.