US embassy cable - 06SANJOSE1622

Costa Rica to Construct Plasma-Propelled Space Rocket

Identifier: 06SANJOSE1622
Wikileaks: View 06SANJOSE1622 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy San Jose
Created: 2006-07-24 22:14:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: ECON EINV NASA CS
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXYZ0004
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #1622 2052214
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 242214Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5652
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 001622 
 
SIPDIS 
 
WHA/CEN 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: ECON, EINV, NASA, CS 
SUBJECT: Costa Rica to Construct Plasma-Propelled Space Rocket 
 
REF:  N/A 
 
1.  Summary: Costa Rican national hero Franklin Chang, a former NASA 
astronaut and dual U.S.-Costa Rican national, recently opened a 
local branch of his Ad Astra Technologies Company in Liberia, 
Guanacaste, one of the country's poorest regions.  The laboratory is 
the first of its kind in Central America and will conduct 
ground-breaking research in the design and building of a 
plasma-propelled rocket. While initial job creation will be limited, 
Chang hopes that the economic spin-off effects will be substantial. 
The symbolic value of the venture is already manifest.  End 
Summary. 
 
Plasma Technology 
----------------- 
 
2.  The rocket Chang hopes to create would be a so-called Variable 
Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR.  The VASIMR would 
use plasma for fuel and the research challenge is to devise a 
magnetic field-based technology capable of containing the fuel's 
energy.  Plasma fuel reaches temperatures measured in the millions 
of degrees and thus must be contained within a magnetic canal to 
prevent damage to the rest of the vehicle, while harnessing its 
energy to propel the rocket through space. 
3.  Plasma rockets would be extremely cost effective; Chang told 
journalists at the opening ceremony that they would be some 300 
times more fuel-efficient than current chemical rockets. 
Additionally, plasma rockets would have a greater carrying capacity. 
 Though the rocket initially will be designed for cargo missions, 
Chang says he thinks manned missions using the technology will be 
feasible in the future. 
Future Plans 
------------ 
 
4.  Chang hopes to have the lab fully operational within six months 
and plans to present the first VASIMR prototype by the end of 2007. 
Pending negotiations with NASA, he hopes to make the first version 
of the rocket motor available for the International Space Station by 
2008. There the model would be equipped with advanced solar 
technology.  The first fuel-sustainable model of the VF-200-1 should 
be complete by 2010. 
5.  The scientist's plans for the plasma rocket are ambitious: Chang 
envisions the technology enabling the establishment of lunar 
stations, Mars travel, possibly even travel to the moons of Jupiter. 
 Typical of Chang's visionary nature is his expectation that humans 
will inhabit the moon by 2018, something that would be sustained by 
the type of advanced solar technology that he believes the 
Guanacaste lab will help develop. 
Benefits for Costa Rica 
----------------------- 
 
6.  The local project will be managed by Ad Astra Rocket Company, a 
subsidiary of Franklin Chang's Ad Astra Technologies, Inc. in 
Houston.  The research will be shared between the company's two 
divisions; Liberia currently is served by numerous daily direct 
flights from the U.S.  Chang is confident that he will be able to 
attract additional venture-capital funding to complete the project, 
which has a budget of $150 million. 
7.  Chang's lab in Liberia will directly employ some 25 people. 
However, he hopes the project will spur the high technology sector 
throughout the country.  Most of the VASIMR's parts will be designed 
and manufactured within Costa Rica and the project will also create 
jobs for circuit-makers, welders, and solar panel designers. 
Additionally, Chang wants Costa Rican universities to collaborate 
and train new students to assist with the project. 
8.  Costa Rican President Oscar Arias joined roughly 500 other 
guests from around the world at the opening ceremony for the company 
on July 15.  He told the audience, which in addition to Costa Rica's 
political elite included many of the Nobel-prize winning and other 
scientists with whom Chang had worked in his NASA career, that he 
welcomed Chang's message of spurring the country's economic 
development through technology.  "He (Chang) should transport, as 
his first passenger, the fear of change so prevalent in Costa Rica." 
 
9.   COMMENT: Chang's venture is a first for a country with an 
economy based largely on tourism and primary exports, but with a 
growing tech sector.  Costa Ricans are justly proud of the 
achievements of a favorite son and his ambitions for the future. 
While clearly born in part of a desire to return something of his 
personal success to the country of his birth, Chang's decision to 
base a key element of his scientific venture in Costa Rica reflects 
also some of the country's comparative advantages in scientific 
education and transportation connections.  President Arias's 
allusion to the project's value as an antidote to Costa Ricans' fear 
of change was a clear reference to the looming battle over CAFTA 
ratification, and was directed at least in part at one member of the 
audience, Otton Solis, Arias's former presidential rival and the 
leader of the PAC party that embodies the political opposition to 
CAFTA. 
LANGDALE 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04