New Otago-built Kiwi Space Radar will track the movements of satellites, space debris

Four giant halfpipes in the central Otago township of Naseby could help keep vital mapping satellites up in the air.

They form a new Kiwi Space Radar, which will track the daily movements of thousands of satellites and pieces of space debris.

Space is no longer an empty place. More than 1000 satellites orbit close to earth providing the technology we use for maps on our phones, through to the Hubble telescope.

"On top of that, there are already hundreds of thousands of small pieces of man-made debris. And the challenge is, if they hit a satellite they can destroy the satellite and they can create more debris," said LeoLabs CEO Dan Ceperley.

Space traffic moves pretty fast, at speeds of over 28,000-kilometres an hour.

The kinetic energy from a tiny piece of space junk is like a human being hit by a piano - at 100-kilometres an hour.

US company LeoLabs is kind of the "Google Maps of Space", tracking the movements of radars in Texas and Alaska. Its technology shows where the satellites are, where the debris is and where the new satellites are going.

Ceperley said the location of the radar is crucial. 

"Geographically it's quite important to have a radar in the Southern Hemisphere. And there's actually no such radar anywhere in the world," he said.

Currently, just five percent of space junk is currently tracked. This next-generation facility will monitor an additional 250,000 fragments of space debris, as small as two-centimetres.

Testing of the unmanned space radar is underway, with more plans to collaborate with our own space industry. 

"We view this as only a first step. New Zealand is becoming a leader in the global space industry," said Ceperley.

Keeping an eye on our skies and outer space, and keeping it safe in the years to come.