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    Interview with Ed Lu of Leolabs: Costa Rican Aerospace Cluster Is Poised For Growth

    By Bruce Callow

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    This week we learn about the upcoming Leolab phased array radar station which will be built next year in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Ed Lu, one of Leolab’s founders and its VP of Strategic Projects has had a long and distinguished career connected with outer space. He is a physicist and former NASA astronaut who flew on two space shuttle missions including an extended stay on the International Space Station. He retired from NASA in 2007. Mr. Lu co-founded the B6 12 Foundation which aims to protect Earth from asteroid strikes, and he is currently its Executive Director. Leolabs provides automated satellite and space debris tracking services in real-time over the internet from a network of radar stations. The company has earned several awards including Aviation Week Network’s 2019 Annual Laureate Award for Outstanding Achievement in Space and the Inaugural SpaceNews Space Stewardship Award (Editors’ Choice 2019). Learn more about Leolabs here

    Leolabs radar installation in New Zealand. Photo courtesy Leolabs

    Leolabs operates radars in Alaska, Texas and New Zealand. How will your radar installation in Costa Rica contribute to your existing radar network?

    The addition of our Costa Rica radar site will not only allow us to improve our tracking services by more frequently tracking each object, it will also allow us to track objects in so-called low inclination orbits (orbits near the equator). 

    What is the financial investment for the Costa Rica project and how many Costa Ricans will be employed over the course of the construction and operation of the project? Will there be opportunities for Costa Ricans university students to do internships with Leolabs?

    LeoLabs has raised the money privately and is entirely funding the construction of the Costa Rica radar.  I don’t have exact numbers of how many people are employed doing the construction work, but we are manufacturing the steel structure and doing all the construction work with Costa Rican firms.  And of course, our partner Ad Astra is also an important part of this project!  We may in the future decide to hire summer interns, and if so we would love to have applications from Costa Rican students!

    Where do you envision Leolabs in 10 years? What are the company’s long range goals?

    Our long-range goal is to enable the sustainable development of space in Earth orbit.  The economic development of space is proceeding rapidly, and already many of the services we depend on every day here on Earth are dependent on space-based services (Earth observation and monitoring, navigation, telecom etc).  We expect that LeoLabs will become a critical part of the space ecosystem over the next 10 years.  

    Ed Lu performing an Extravehicular Activity on Space Shuttle mission STS-106 in september 2000. Photo courtesy NASA

    Costa Rica is very close to forming its own space agency. What advice would you give the new agency to continue attracting space related investment to Costa Rica?

    I think the most important thing is to allow businesses to easily invest and grow in Costa Rica by making the regulatory processes as transparent and efficient as possible.  Our experience in Costa Rica has been very positive, and we would recommend it to other space related businesses! 

    Bruce Callow

    Bruce Callow is a Canadian teacher and co-author of the book To the Stars: Costa Rica in NASA. He does space education outreach work on behalf of NASA.

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