The first stage of the MUSA Project has been a success. In the morning (9:23 a.m. local time, 2:23 a.m. in Costa Rica) the rocket with the research device made entirely in Costa Rica took off from the spaceport of Esrange, Sweden. It is only the second time in the country’s history that a device manufactured on national soil and by Costa Rican hands has reached space. The MUSA Project cube traveled aboard the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) SubOrbital Express 3 mission rocket to an altitude of 260 kilometers and remained in microgravity for 6 minutes.
In charge of the project is the startup Orbital Space Technologies (OST), in collaboration with the Space Systems Laboratory (SETEC-Lab) and the Center for Research in Biotechnology (CIB) of the Technological of Costa Rica (TEC), the Central American Association of Aeronautics and Space (ACAE) and Swedish Space Corporation (SSC). The flight is being financed through a fundraising campaign and with the help of private sponsors such as ArrozImperio, Liberty Empresas, NassarAbogadosCentroamérica, Honor, GrupoAproveco and Sisters LA. “For us, more than fulfilling the dream of carrying out our first space mission, it is a motivation to continue working on what we like the most. It has been a process of years with which we finally achieved the first step and it gives us great satisfaction to know that it was our work that reached space”, commented Valeria DittelTortós, CEO of Orbital Space Technologies.
The MUSA Project seeks a treatment against the disease that destroys banana plantations, also called Panama disease. What started as a student dream three years ago is coming true today. With this launch, the Costa Rican company manages to test the necessary technology for the development of new experiments on board spacecraft, such as the International Space Station (ISS) or private space stations. Last Wednesday, November 23rd, several members of the Orbital team were in Esrange, Sweden, where they recovered the rocket payload, including the cube with the MUSA experiment.
In this first stage, the aim was to validate the critical systems in a short period of microgravity, to subsequently improve the design and send it to the International Space Station, where it will be exposed for approximately 2 weeks to microgravity conditions. What follows is to evaluate the information. At the end of January 2023, an activity will be carried out to present the results. «For OST this suborbital flight means a firm step as a space company in an emerging country like Costa Rica, projecting our mission of being a connection between Latin America and space, by generating technologies for experimentation in microgravity. These technologies align with our vision of being able to help generate innovative solutions to problems on Earth”,Dittel concluded.
Dr. Johan CarvajalGodínez, coordinator of the TEC’s Space Systems Laboratory commented that “this successful launch of the MUSA experiment aboard the Swedish Space Corporation rocket is a great satisfaction. This shows that the Costa Rican space industry has the capacity to implement space projects of great scientific value, and accelerate the technological development of Costa Rica. This collaboration between SETEC-Lab and OST will continue to bear fruit in the publication of the results of the experiment and future phases of the project”.
For his part, the president of ACAE, Dr. Julio Calvo Alvarado, appreciated the importance of adding young faces to the country’s scientific development: “With this suborbital flight, our country achieves the second space mission after the Irazú Project. The newest thing on this occasion is that the leadership is university students, with a high participation of women. This fills us with pride and joy, because they are proof of the paradigm shift that higher education in our nations so much requires. Here we see students of scientific and technological careers, from public and private universities, working together and inspired to face great challenges with the innovation and entrepreneurship of their own company”.
In 2020, just after congress approved the project for the creation of the Costa Rican Space Agency (AEC), the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) told TEC researchers the availability of space on one of its suborbital flights. The members of SETEC-Lab, who had coordinated the Irazú Project to launch the first satellite of Costa Rica and Central America into space, decided to bet on facilitating space for a private company to develop in the aerospace area, according to Carvajal.
This is how the connection between the Swedish corporation and Orbital Space Technologies began to take place, always with the advice of the Technological and the accompaniment of ACAE. “Working with Orbital Space Technologies is right in line with the goal of making our ability to send rockets into space at the service of science, and expanding it to other nations by having the possibility to work not only at the level of Sweden or Europe, but the whole world. There are a lot of organizations that have brilliant ideas for things they can do in space, but they can’t fund a full launch. So we offer to do a carpool, which allows us to support start-up companies, as well as universities, at what we consider to be a very good price. What SCC gets in return is the ability to travel more often”, explained Gunnar Florin, SSC’s director of business development.
The Swedish Space Corporation emerged in 1972 and in its 50-year history it has expanded its powers, as well as the number of subsidiaries around the world. As Florin explained, they already have constant suborbital launch capabilities and terrestrial connection to satellites from all over the globe, with stations in Europe, Chile and Australia, among others. “Our goal is to be a global provider of advanced space services”, said the representative of the SSC.