US based LeoLabs chose Ruamoko Innovation for their expertise to build the first Space Radar in Aotearoa New Zealand

LeoLabs is a provider of commercial radar tracking services for objects in Low Earth Orbit. They aim to build a network of over 20 radars to protect satellites and other objects in low earth orbit from collisions with debris. Aerospace Christchurch had the privilege to speak to Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director, Julian Ramsay. Ruamoko Innovation delivered Engineering Consulting Services for the design of the space radar structures, and is working with LeoLabs to deliver a ‘next generation of (space) radars.’

The Kiwi Space Radar based in Naseby, Central Otago. Credit: LeoLabs

When asked about Ruamoko’s involvement with the project, Ramsay mentioned ‘Ruamoko delivers primarily the Engineering Consulting for the design of the space radar structures, this includes input on the locating, positioning, foundations and superstructure, civil engineering design for each global site.’ He specifically noted the increased complexity due to the international nature of building Space Radar’s with LeoLabs.

‘Our role is much broader than it would typically be for a building as the radars must be built with incredibly low tolerances for operational movement. Each site is completely different, and we are usually bound by a completely new set of local regulations at each site.’

Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director Julian Ramsay
Managing Director Julian Ramsay (left) and Senior Engineer Chris Watson (right) pictured at the opening of the Kiwi Space Radar. Credit: Ruamoko Innovation

‘The most enjoyable part of the project is having a direct impact on the accuracy of the space debris mapping, and working with the project team. Our work has led to a genuine improvement in locating space debris with greater accuracy,’ Ramsay says. When Russia fired a space missile into its own satellite in November 2021, it was the Kiwi Space Radar that picked up the debris. This debris lead to the seven-member ISS crew to take shelter in the docked capsule for hours, as a precaution.

We asked Ramsay on the specific differences between typical structural engineering projects Ruamoko would be working on compared to the Kiwi Space Radar. “The radar projects involve a much wider scope than typical structural engineering, and the structures are governed by a performance based specification (which we helped to define) rather than a safety governed criteria. Obviously safety is checked, but doesn’t typically govern the design of the structures.”

‘We work extremely closely with LeoLabs in refining every detail to ensure absolute best performance from the radars, whilst taking into account constructability, durability of dissimilar materials, thermal effects etc’

Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director Julian Ramsay
The Kiwi Space Radar based in Naseby, Central Otago. Credit: LeoLabs

Ramsay noted the possibilities for growth in the Aerospace Sector right here in Aotearoa New Zealand. ‘Globally there is an ever increasing focus on sustainability and there is no doubt that the space and technology sector will be hugely important in helping this cause. The NZ space sector is worth approximately $1.7b per year to the NZ economy and is only going to increase. Ruamoko Innovation is very excited about growing opportunities in this sector and with the increasing number of space and technology projects on our books we can only see us becoming more involved in this sector.’

‘In addition, aerospace has been nominated as one of Christchurch’s “Global Growth Opportunity Cluster” sectors, and Canterbury will be the first region to develop an aerospace sector plan to grow and nurture the industry, with the goal being that Canterbury is New Zealand’s main aerospace testbed by 2025.’

Ruamoko Innovations involvement with LeoLabs proves that NZ firms can have a meaningful and real input into the global space sector. Our experience has shown that having the right “can-do” kiwi attitude is of real value, and has seen us continue our relationship on several other projects.

Ruamoko Innovation’s Managing Director Julian Ramsay

Ruamoko Innovation also won one of the Ace Awards in 2020, for their work on the Kiwi Space Radar

Managing Director Julian Ramsay and Senior Engineer Chris Watson pictured at the 2020 Ace Awards. Credit: AceNZ

We questioned Ramsay on how he got to where he is now, to which he said ‘I studied structural engineering at the University of Canterbury and started a company Ruamoko Solutions shortly after graduating and prior to the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011. The earthquakes were a turning point which allowed us to focus on bespoke and creative solutions to complex problems, and our company won a number of awards for innovation, particularly in new seismic technology. Taking the same innovative approach, and using some of Ruamoko Solutions wealth of talented staff who are gifted in a pragmatic yet highly technical engineering approach, we started a sister company called Ruamoko Innovation to deal specifically with space and defense type projects.’

Ruamoko Innovation and the New Zealand Space Radar are just another example of a Kiwi success in the Aerospace Sector. Furthermore, they are evidence of the significant growth and opportunities for the Aerospace Sector, not only in Canterbury but also across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Check out LeoLabs visualisation here.