By Dr. Adolfo Chaves-Jiménez
On Thursday, February 18th, 2021, the Costa Rican congress approved the law to create AEC. All that is left is the signature of the president of that country for this project to be law. With this tool, the tiny nation of a little more than five million people intends to be a protagonist of the space age.
As in any developing nation, when investment is done in advanced science and technology areas, this approval does not lack controversy. In the public, expending public resources in space technology is influenced by the perception of space dominance for geopolitical reasons, the struggle to get to space or to the Moon of the last century as a competence for supremacy, dominance, and yes… of vanity.
Nevertheless, space has changed. Now, with the advancement in technology, many small countries, and companies, several of them very small, are making a profit out of space development. Companies like “Made in Space” that created the first 3D printer for space, or “Rocket Lab” launching the small “Electron” rocket to orbit, show that this is possible.
When space development is considered an unnecessary use of resources, doubts about the capabilities of developing nations to create such an environment for technology advancement often appear. Nevertheless, here in Latin America, organizations as the “Ecuadorian Space Agency” (EXA) show that space development can be done in a sustainable way for the financial point of view, with proper science and technology development and clear goals, being one of the first companies in Latin America to sell high-end small satellite components with TRL 9.
The Costa Rica Space Agency (AEC) has been created with the purpose of promoting space as a tool of development in the country, and as the counterpart for potential cooperation with other space nations. We look at the change in space economy and the successful examples just mentioned.
AEC will have an initial investment by the government, and after that, it will be self-sustainable. Self-sustainability is proposed to be achieved using intense cooperation with nations with similar interest. The idea is to cooperate with public space agencies like NASA, ESA, JAXA, KARI, and in Latin America, the Mexican, Brazilian space agencies, and private agencies like EXA, to name a few.
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) & Costa Rica & in general Latin America
ISRO is probably the largest space public organization that has worked since its creation with a clear philosophy to create space technology very efficiently, as a counterpart of other space nations in the age of the space race, where the speed of advancements “to be first” was of utmost importance. As both India and Costa Rica are considered developing nations, there are many common interests between the two.
Nevertheless, there are also differences, especially from the point of view of scale. In this circumstance, there are many areas where the ISRO and AEC could be complementary. For example, the geographical position of Costa Rica, and the area where the space center would be located (the Guanacaste province) present ideal conditions for the installation of ground stations for satellite monitoring, like great line-of-view, dry conditions, and an international airport. In words of the former American-Costa Rican astronaut, Franklin Chang-Díaz, Guanacaste is similar to Cape Canaveral.
For this reason, an organization like ISRO could install ground stations in Costa Rica, in charge of AEC, to monitor their own satellites. Instead of a direct payment, as a complementary service, ISRO could provide Costa Rica with launching opportunities for universities and research institutions, increasing the cooperation in space.
Costa Rica is considered by many experts, the most biodiverse country in the world. In addition to that, there is an install capability of high-level biotechnology research institutions in this area. Costa Rica could take advantage of this matter to cooperate with agencies like NASA, EXA and ISRO, to explore how many of the biotechnology advancements could be used for space applications, especially for sustaining life in space.
I deeply believe each nation has potential to use space engineering as a tool of development, always under its own characteristics as a country. Amid this process, cooperation taking advantage of the complementary strengths of other nations could be the way for mutual benefit in space engineering. Here, I only remark two possible areas of mutual cooperation of a Latin American country like Costa Rica and India. Many more opportunities with diverse nations cooperating with ISRO have the potential to become areas of mutual benefit for our nations.
(The author is Coordinator, Space Systems Engineering Laboratory, Costa Rica Institute of Technology, Spaceflight crewman candidate, Latcosmos Mission ESAA-01 & Coauthor, Costa Rica Space Agency Law project. He has his PhD in space systems engineering, and was part of the team that created the first Costa Rican Satellite. He can be reached at [email protected] Views are personal.)