UPDATED 4:10 PM PT – Friday, April 23, 2021
A space radar capable of capturing small objects that threaten the safety of astronauts and satellites was inaugurated Thursday at a farm in northwestern Costa Rica.
Surrounded by large sugar cane crops on the Pacific Coast of the Central American country, the four large panels that make up the radar are connected to the servers of aerospace company LeoLabs in San Francisco, California.
“This is the most advanced commercial radar in the world for tracking space objects,” LeoLabs CEO and Founder Daniel Ceperly said. “It’s for a few reasons: This radar was designed to track very small pieces of debris. It turns out there are about 250,000 pieces of debris in space that are two centimeters in size and larger. They aren’t tracked today and they threaten satellites.”
A space radar capable of capturing small objects that threaten the safety of astronauts and satellites was inaugurated at a farm in northwestern Costa Rica pic.twitter.com/ZSaYKears3
— Reuters (@Reuters) April 23, 2021
Ceperly added, everything in space moves very quickly — at approximately 8 kilometers per second — so even a tiny piece of debris hitting a satellite can completely destroy it.
The radar installation, called the Costa Rica Space Radar, can monitor objects that transit in low earth orbit (LEO) in the region of the planet near the equator. This is an advantage offered by the Costa Rican geographical location, according to LeoLabs CEO Ceperley.
“One service is it checks for collisions days before they might happen, so that satellites can move and avoid the collision,” Ceperly noted. “If you’ve seen the movie “Gravity” we are basically making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Ceperly said another LeoLabs service tracks newly launched satellites.
“We pick them up first with this radar and give the satellite operators precise locations for their satellites,” Ceperly said. “So that they can get in touch with them and move them into operations very quickly.”
Ceperly declined to reveal the cost of developing such a technology. It can capture objects as small as a small golf ball traveling at 30,000 kilometers per hour by using a continuous series of radio frequencies that bounce off materials in orbit and send information back to the company’s servers.