With a new space agency in the region, Latin America is the new kid on the block, attempting to bring together 12 agencies in a continent in the 21st Century.
Over the weekend leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) had gathered in Mexico City and the focus was on COVID-19, setting up a Latin American and Caribbean Space Agency (ALCE), and creation of a disaster fund for the region.
With a new space agency in the region, Latin America is the new kid on the block, attempting to bring together 12 agencies in a continent in the 21st Century. The creation of ALCE was announced in October 2020 by the governments of Argentina and Mexico.
According to the US based Georgetown University Space Initiative report, an observation platform to remap the Earth’s surface with deep details is being carried out by Satellogic, based in Uruguay and Argentina. Also, another Latin American company which is based in Puerto Rico is working on creating space habitats which can be used for human colonies in the solar system, states the report of Georgetown University Space Initiative, which was founded in 2019.
“Latin America and Caribbean Space Agency `ALCE’ and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) could act as partners and complementary organizations with mutual help on access to orbit, space telecommunications, experiments, training and more,” says Dr Adolfo Chaves Jiménez, Researcher Coordinator, Space Systems Engineering Laboratory (SETEC Lab) School of Electronics Costa Rica Institute of Technology.
Dr Adolfo Chaves Jiménez, of Costa Rica shares his views on the ALCE & ISRO with Huma Siddiqui.
Following are excerpts:
How can ALCE and ISRO work together?
A Latin American Space Agency has been a matter of discussion for decades, even formally in forums as the Space Conference of the Americas. Nevertheless, it has always been focused on the political and high-level formation of an entity. I believe the reason why this agency has to be formed should go first, that its constitution, in whatever form possible, should be supported by a few but properly defined projects.
For example, the proposition of creating a constellation of satellites for earth observation proposed by Mexico in CELAC seems to me the way to go. But this organization should rely more on technical expertise.
It seems to me like the people proposing ALCE might be committing the same errors as the past, leaving the proposal on a high-level political scenario and not using the support of the already existing technical organizations.
Any advancement will be great for the region, if they do not become just another organization for political discussion, but with a focus on projects. I am still hopeful the agency will exist and will be positive for the region.
Regarding the cooperation with India, ALCE will learn a lot from looking at ISRO, and their impressive achievements. ISRO, from the point of view of socio economic matters, works in an environment more closely related to the conditions of the countries of Latin America, and very different from other organizations like NASA or ESA.
What role can or should Costa Rica play in this?
Costa Rica is a small country, but from the point of view of international relations, it has a moral authority coming from the lack of armed forces, its efforts related to nature conservation and stability. Not being one of the large countries constituting ALCE (like Argentina or Mexico), and due to its stability, advancements in space technology and constitution of a space agency in 2021, I believe Costa Rica might be a prime candidate for the setup of one of the large locations of ALCE, similar to ESTEC in the Netherlands, the largest ESA facility, that is not located in any of the largest contributors to ESA, like Germany, France, Italy or the United Kingdom.
Separate from that, Costa Rica, and more specifically the Guanacaste region, is a prime location for ground operations, as the construction of radar by LeoLabs to monitor space debris shows.
Costa Rica is also one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Of course, many Latin American countries share this condition, but at the same time, Costa Rica has already a world-class set up of specialists and laboratories devoted to biodiversity studies. I believe our country could become a world research center for the use of biodiversity for the survival of humankind in space, and ALCE, jointly with the Costa Rica Space Agency could be the main promoter of this.
What are the opportunities for the private sector companies in the space sector not only in the region but globally too?
We are in the era of space 2.0, where the private companies are taking advantage of space for profit reasons. I believe the largest projects related to technical advancements in space will be done mostly by private companies. Public space agencies should become a tool for governments to assure that the advancements in space technology benefit the people of their countries, and the world.
New mechanisms will need to become reality for the relation between public and private institutions to become a win-win situation. I believe the role of organizations like UNCOPOUS will become more important than ever.
I am very positive. I believe human inventiveness will lead us forward, and the way we see ourselves as a species will change with this conquest of space.