On Tuesday, January 3, EPIC AEROSPACE launched Chimera LEO 1, a nanosatellite orbit transfer vehicle (OTV) capable of placing satellites in specific orbits. EPIC AEROSPACE is a young OTV startup created in the United States by Argentine engineer Ignacio Belieres Montero, engaged in deploying small non-powered unfueled satellites into their precise orbit. We talked to Luca Estebenet, chief of Operations of the company, about what is next in the aerospace industry, the more affordable costs to reach space, and the promotion of greater accessibility to, and participation in, space.


How was EPIC AEROSPACE born?

EPIC is, basically, a last-mile delivery company in space.

This means that our focus is to transport payloads from the place in which they were dropped off by large rockets/launchers, like those of SpaceX or Blue Origin, to their final destination in space.

It may be regarded as a space Uber that takes you from the airport to your house, on demand.

Actually, it is a rather novel activity driven by the fact that the cheapest rockets in the market, such as those of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, are increasingly larger, while the satellites being launched today are increasingly smaller.

Our solution is simple and allows for small satellites to be launched grouped in large rockets, and to still reach their final destination with the help of our OTVs.


So far the aerospace industry belonged to large players related to public initiatives. What happens with the introduction of nanosatellites in the aerospace market?

Exactly. The aerospace and information technology (IT) industries originated quite similarly. However, it is clear that the IT industry outgrew the aerospace industry by far. Let alone if we consider the past decades of humankind, where IT reigned over other technologies and grew exponentially. In fact, if we take a look at $AMZN, $AAPL, $META, $GOOG, and $MSFT, their market capitalization is close to USD 7 trillion (20 times the GDP of Argentina), ranking as the most valuable companies in the world, and they are all IT-related.


Why did IT largely outgrow space exploration?

Essentially, this occurred because space programs were developed with government contributions (instead of private initiatives), and, as a result, the industry became very conservative, expensive, bureaucratic, and risk-averse.

The IT industry, conversely, grew with the support of private investors on a market-oriented basis. With this combination of private innovation and economies of scale, IT costs were cut by a factor of 1000, prompting a global revolution, which mainly made computers evolve at a much rapid pace than satellites and space exploration.


How did the aerospace industry reach the acceleration of the past years?

In 2002, Elon Musk created the first private aerospace company and ignited a revolution that, today, has spread worldwide. Elon managed to make launching costs 20 times cheaper, and this, in turn, resulted in the creation of several startups that put their efforts into lowering the costs of access and logistics in space.

The aerospace industry, led by Elon Musk, gave rise to a huge ecosystem in which tens of companies are performing businesses, some of which are already unicorns, or will be so in the future. Some of the leading companies in the market include SpaceX, RocketLab, Relativity Space, Firefly, Planet, etc.

Clearly, the next revolution will be in the aerospace industry (both commercially and strategically).


What are nanosatellites for?

Nanosatellites have several applications, including space observation, Earth observation, and weather observation. They are also widely used in the fields of communications, maritime industry, GPS, sensors, and more.


In which way do nanosatellites democratize access to space?

With small satellites, private parties or developing countries that are just starting to innovate in this industry are now capable of having their own satellites, for a fraction of the cost of a large satellite.


How do South America (in general) and Uruguay (in particular) fit into the aerospace industry?

South America in general is extraordinarily positioned to face the upcoming space revolution. We have large numbers of skilled manpower fully trained, qualified, and ready to carry out major projects and innovate. In addition, labor in South America is more competitive in economic terms than in the United States or Europe, which makes our position twice as better since we are talking about an intensive capital industry.

Uruguay, in turn, is the country best positioned to undertake enterprises in terms of commercial and tax relations. Uruguay has robust and reliable institutions that understand the direction in which the world is headed and the flexibility companies need to operate and develop sound businesses that produce more than what they spend.


What operations do you currently have in Uruguay?

Our operation in Uruguay consists of a 4300 square feet (400 square meters) factory located in ZONAMERICA. We have a plant specialized in hardware manufacturing processes. We also have office and warehouse spaces. Thanks to this entire infrastructure we are able to smoothly perform our trading, import, and export activities.

Undoubtedly, we intend to keep growing in Uruguay. Since the first time we came to ZONAMERICA, we felt like being in a first-world park, from the facilities to the human capital of the people who helped us embark in this great adventure.


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