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Costa Rica becomes a space watchman with powerful radar

April 24, 2021

Costa Rica on Thursday inaugurated a powerful radar capable of detecting objects as small as 2 centimeters transiting in low Earth orbit and that are a threat to the safety of ships and satellites.

The instrument was developed by Silicon Valley firm LeoLabs and its local partner Ad Astra. It is located in the town of Filadelfia de Carrillo, Guanacaste province, about 200 km northwest of San José. The investment amount was not disclosed.

“Only nine months after breaking ground in Costa Rica, it is gratifying to announce full operational status for the most advanced commercial space radar of its kind anywhere on the planet,” said Dan Ceperley, co-founder and CEO of LeoLabs.

The country’s president, Carlos Alvarado, participated in the inauguration.

The Costa Rica Space Radar, as it has been baptized, has “the unprecedented ability to track objects, including active satellites and orbital debris up to 2 centimeters, which represent the majority of risks” in low Earth orbit (LEO), the government reported.

“It is these risks that are critical considerations for all of LeoLabs’ customer base, which includes satellite operators, defense, space and regulatory agencies, insurance, and the scientific community,” the firm said in a statement.

Former NASA astronaut and LeoLabs co-founder Edward Lu explained that each service they provide, “including collision avoidance or tracking early launches, benefits from the additional data that is flowing from the Costa Rica Space Radar.”

The device makes it possible to provide coverage of orbits near the Earth’s equator, taking advantage of Costa Rica’s location.

“In combination with our other radars, the Costa Rica Space Radar expands our ability to provide a real time map of more objects in LEO. … This is a major contribution to space sustainability and safety of flight,” added Lu.

“It is exactly the kind of project that will enable new science, empower students, and improve the safety of future human spaceflight,” said Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz, leader of Ad Astra, the other firm participating in the draft.

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