|What the city of Houston, Texas is to space travel in the United States, the city of Liberia may soon be to Costa Rica. |
On Sunday, President Laura Chinchilla announced that Liberia, located in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, will be the location for an initiative entitled “National Aerospace Development and Integration for the Central American Region in the Generation of New Technologies.” The presentation also included the unveiling of the Central American Aerospace Industry Chamber (CACIA), which will consist of numerous aerospace experts and companies in Central America. Chinchilla had mentioned further development of the national aerospace program as one of her priorities since her inauguration in May.
Liberia was selected as the site for the program's launch because of its proximity to the headquarters of the Ad Astra Rocket Company, which was formed in 2005 by Costa Rican astronaut and rocket scientist Franklin Chang. Chang, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), spent many years working as a scientist and astronaut with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Ad Astra is based in Houston, Texas.
The Costa Rican branch of the company, located 10 kilometers west of Liberia on the campus of EARTH University, focuses its research on the creation of the plasma rocket, known as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Ad Astra in Costa Rica hopes to test one of their first plasma rockets in space by 2014.
“We want recognition for Costa Rica, so the country can enter this special industry,” Chinchilla said in May. “We hope that Costa Rica will be the first Latin American country (to enter the space industry).” (TT, May 14)
Of the various experts in attendance, several spoke on their ideas for the development of Central American aerospace, their plans to finance the projects, and explanations of how they will advance the use of plasma energy. According to Costa Rica's foreign minister, René Castro, over 80 Central American companies have expressed interest in participating in the development of CACIA and the aerospace program.