Tracking space junk

LeoLabs' Costa Rica Space Radar unveiled to track small objects.

The Costa Rica Space Radar was recently unveiled by LeoLabs, a US aerospace sector company which offers mapping of objects in low Earth orbit, and began delivering data to customers on 22 April 2021. LeoLabs’ main objective is to map small spacecraft and debris as small as two centimetres in low Earth orbit for commercial clients.

According to a LeoLabs executive, “95% of objects in LEO (low earth orbit) with sufficient mass and energy to cause catastrophic damage to active satellites and the ISS (International space Station) have never been tracked. We are addressing this critical area of risk.”

“95% of objects in LEO with sufficient mass and energy to cause catastrophic damage to active satellites and the ISS have never been tracked.”

Executive, LeoLabs Inc

Costa Rica occupies a strategic geographic location for the radar to track objects in the equatorial region. Furthermore, considered the most stable country in the region, it also has a high level of educated professionals and a significant amount of sophisticated technological tools to promote its environmental stewardship projects.

Costa Rica’s Minister of Science, Technology and Telecommunications, Paola Vega Castillo, told us, “The industry has self-organised into an Aerospace Cluster that started in 2016 and has 36 companies and 3,000 jobs including many small and medium sized specialist manufacturers. LeoLabs’ activities are an important milestone in the further development of the industry.”

The Costa Rica Space Radar is the most advanced radar model on Earth and it is expected to be powering space traffic throughout the next two decades as it will be tracking objects too small to be tracked by the US Department of Defence. However, despite the wide range of commercial opportunities that the radar opens up for Costa Rica, these will be mostly channelled through LeoLabs.

After nine months of construction works, the Costa Rica Space Radar is now fully operational and it is already gathering data for analysis of collision prevention risk and constellation monitoring space agencies, commercial satellite operators, defence and scientific organisations, among others.

Costa Rica has the most advanced aerospace industry in the region and, the building of the radar opens the door to new science and technology opportunities. The president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, said that the country wanted to attract cutting-edge technology companies to promote greater sustainable economic growth. Alvarado emphasised that the launching of the project coincided with the country’s long-term decarbonisation strategy.

The LeoLabs executive also sees this as the beginning of their investment in Costa Rica, “Our investment in the Costa Rica site will continue for decades. Today is just the beginning but it places Costa Rica very much at the centre of the worldwide effort to support sustainability in space.”

“[We] will seek to influence future agreements and cooperation instruments related to space, so that principles of peace, justice and sustainability are met.”

Paola Vega Castillo, Minister of Science, Technology and Telecommunications, Costa Rica

Paola Vega Castillo concluded, “In addition to the opportunity for scientific and technology development, Costa Rica, as a voting member of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and in accordance with the values that characterise us, will seek to influence future agreements and cooperation instruments related to space, so that principles of peace, justice and sustainability are met.”

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