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Robert Aillon on Ecuador signing the Artemis Accords.

Robert Aillon, Founder of Leviathan Space on Ecuador signing the Artemis Accords, and his thoughts on making the case for space in developing nations.





5 years ago Robert Aillon, Founder of Leviathan Space, set out to help diversify and progress Ecuador’s business landscape. Space proved to be the perfect opportunity for the developing nation, and Robert shares with us his story on assisting Ecuador in signing the Artemis Accords.

You can connect with Robert on LinkedIn and find out more about Leviathan Space on their website.

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Selected Reading

NASA Welcomes Ecuador as 26th Artemis Accords Signatory

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>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to T-Minus Deep Space from N2K Networks. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the T-Minus Space Daily Podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program.

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Now being based in the United States here at T-Minus, we are, admittedly, very interested in the Artemis Accords. This US-led agreement on how we return to the moon, how we collaborate across nations for the betterment of humanity and the furthering of space exploration, admittedly, we're happy when we hear that another nation has signed on. And today, we're speaking with Robert Aillon, who had played a significant role in having Ecuador become the 26th, signatory to the Artemis Accords. He'll walk us through that story today and share his thoughts on developing space expertise and industry in developing nations. He has a fascinating story and a great perspective. I'll let him introduce himself.

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>> Robert Aillon: My name is Robert Aillon. I am the President of the Guayaquil Space Society, a chapter of the National Space Society from the United States. I'm also an ambassador for the MILO Space Science Institute from Arizona State University, and I'm the founder of the company Leviathan Space Industry that wants to develop a spaceport in Ecuador for private commercial use.

>> Maria Varmazis: It's fascinating. There's so much good news coming out of Ecuador when it comes to space right now. So let's start with the big headline news about Ecuador joining the Artemis Accords, and if I understand correctly, you had a big part in making that happen. I would love if you could walk our audience through. I know it was a long journey. Could you start us at the beginning and just tell me the story of how that came to be? How are -- how you got Ecuador to join the Artemis Accords.

>> Robert Aillon: Oh, definitely. We started five years ago. My career was focusing in banking, and at the time, when I left that, I was trying to see what can we do with technology to help the productivity in Ecuador, to improve its competitiveness, you know, its economic development? And because one of the things that you see in developing nations is they're always developing, but there's no end date of when that's going to happen. So I was trying to see what can we do with technology that can have a profound effect, and it's definitely so that space, definitely touched every aspect of a local economy, you know, from agriculture, communications, education, manufacturing, logistics. So then I said, okay, let's take advantage of this. Let's -- it looks like a great moment. You know, because the commercial sector is lifting and the new players are going to be definitely looking for people who could provide great services. You know, so this is an opportunity maybe we can fit in into this space supply chain. So as you know, Ecuador's geographic position, it's very unique, and I think it definitely offers something very meaningful that the market demands, in case of access to communications, launches, you know, the biodiversity and attractiveness of Ecuador from its geography. It's something that it -- it can be very meaningful for the future, and starting now, we have to be ready for that. So we decided to take some different activities, thinking about that. The first thing that we did, you know, was form the company Leviathan Space, thinking about the spaceport as the center. What can drive this in Ecuador, you know, having this ecosystem develop? And then, we saw the need for institutional developments. That we needed the institutions to get the people involved, get a voice, get people excited about this, and that's how we decided to open up the Guayaquil Space Society. So that young people would be able to have that path, you know, to -- of involvement of activism, and we reached out to the National Space Society. They approved a chapter for us. It was the first of Latin America that was available. So it was very exciting for us to be able to generate events, invite astronauts to participate like Greg Johnson, that came over to visit Ecuador, and then getting the universities involved with their students. Activities, research, we were able to send seeds into the International Space Station, the first seeds from Latin America. So that was exciting. You know, taking these steps to show people that it is possible. That they can get involved. That is not something that is very foreign to them, and through that, we definitely saw that we need to have a closer relationship to the space community, and the government needs to be very involved. So we have been advocating for the last two years so we could have Artemis as something that we can aspire to. So we started with some webinars, some activity, we might have some space lawyers from the US, Greg Autry. We might have some lawyers from Ecuador to start thinking about in terms of how this impacts us. So we had some great initial conversations about this happening. Then last year, Professor Greg Autry from Thunderbird School of Global Management visited us. We were able to talk to different government officials about the opportunities of Artemis. With that, we were able to drive the conversation into a very important lobbying effort. Even though we did not spend any resources or any money, any contributions, or things along those lines, which is when you consider the long enough, we took a very educational approach of engaging actors in the game, all the stakeholders, you know? Talking, in this case, to the universities, talking, in this case to industry folks from the private sector, talking to the government officials in the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Relations and trying to drive that message. Then we were also able to get the support from Mike Gold from Redwire, who was one of the architects of the Artemis Accords. So his excitement and drive was able to definitely generate very positive interest from the US government and NASA in that case. So once we had that, we just had to drive through the conversation internally in Ecuador through all the reviews, all the necessary approvals that were needed in each different ministry. So that was a --

>> Maria Varmazis: Which can be a lot. It makes me feel very blessed.

>> Robert Aillon: It's definitely a lot, and it can drive a lot of time that is needed for that, but the exciting thing was that there was never a door that was closed to us. People listened. People were excited. People saw an opportunity here. The timing also helped us, I think. Because Ecuador has been going through a lot of changes in the last couple of months, and now there was opportunity to show a positive message, something good, something that can definitely benefit the community. And I think that's what, when we had our conversation with our Minister of Foreign Relations, Gustavo Manrique, telling me about what it entailed to join Artemis and what were the benefits for Ecuador, in this case, in the long term, to be a part of the community, drive the conversation, have a seat at the table. He was very excited, and we then -- I was able to tell him, well, you're going to be going to Washington next week to talk about the Blue Bond for the Galapagos and do other things. Let's try to put it on the agenda, and to my surprise, he said yes. And very quickly, the team from the foreign relations and the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington was able to coordinate this event in less than a week. So that was very exciting. It was a lot of work behind the shades that many people know what it takes to get something like this signed and getting all these government officials together to definitely do something important. So for us, it was very positive. So now we can definitely say that we're starting a path with Artemis that opens up a world of opportunities for Ecuador, and that's, I think, the most important part that we want everybody to consider. You know that you can be involved and that you can be a participant, and you can lead. And I think that's so, so important because what happens with our industries, you know, agriculture, bananas, shrimp, coffee, cocoa, in this case, rice, fresh flowers, how can they play a role in space, you know, to support the astronaut missions? How does the diverse ecosystem in Ecuador can help maybe in astronaut training? Maybe we can have the NASA astronauts come down to Ecuador and participate and scale one of the volcanoes or go to the jungle or do scuba diving and do part of that. And last year, you know, Jared Isaacman for Inspiration4, another Polaris mission, he brought the Polaris mission astronauts to train to Ecuador. So there's definitely opportunity for that to continue.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's wonderful, and all these fantastic examples of the different applications for space. I mean, it sounds like that really helped move the needle, as it were, for the political will, because I know for -- in the scientific community, there's a lot of interest, and it's almost like we know what the -- we know what the benefits are. We're all on board, but when we get to the political part, that's often where things can stall. And I'm so impressed, and I admire the work that you and your teams did to keep pushing through the points where often things will just kind of peter out for lack of a better term because that's where it gets really difficult, and you made it sound so easy, but I know it was a multi-year process. And I'm wondering if you have any advice for anyone else who may be in a similar situation as you, if they're trying to advocate for maybe their country joining the Artemis Accords, or maybe just trying to get a space program, running and running into the bureaucracy, the politics, that kind of thing? Like any advice you would have for folks like that?

>> Robert Aillon: The most difficult part is always for the community that is not space savvy, and they do not understand the benefits or the technology, how it impacts them. So that's the hardest part to do, and that's where we definitely need to be prepared to elaborate the right not only topics but the right arguments to be able to show what it means for them and how they benefit and how it impacts them because everybody asks and how much is this going to cost me? And how does that affect me? How much work does -- it's going to put on my table? And that's where we have to drive the conversation about technology is going to help you. It's going to drive you more competitive, you know? This is not going to, in this case for the private sector, it's not going to cost you anything right now. But what it does is opens up technology, alternative for research, opportunity for collaboration, opportunity for branding new products, and I think that's really important for them to start making it click. How does my business model needs to be updated as this new technology matures, and this access is exploding considerably with ease?

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>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back after this quick break.

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>> Maria Varmazis: I'd love to shift gears a little bit in terms of now that Ecuador has signed the Artemis Accords, which is wonderful, you don't speak for all of the country, obviously. That's a lot, but in your view what's next for Ecuador in terms of space? There's a lot of different interesting programs. I know Leviathan Space, your company, is certainly part of that. Can you give us a sense of what -- like what's next?

>> Robert Aillon: So we definitely think that it's important to have everybody ready, and the question is, what does that mean? So we reached out and we formed a great relationship with the MILO Space Science Institute from Arizona State University, and they developed a program for NASA for workforce development. And they've been training people for the last few years, over 5,000 graduates, that they're ready to join NASA. And the reason they did this program was that NASA was looking at university candidates that were taking too long to start performing in their new roles. They were taking up to 18 months to really get ready, you know, to perform and deliver. So they brought up MILO to be able to shorten that gap. And that's really important for us to start thinking about how does the university students -- because space is multifaceted? You need different careers and different types of teams to come together to start thinking about how do we create value? How do we create solutions? So now they're working with local universities to implement programs, one that is going to be focused on the moon and space, and one that is going to be focused on Earth observation, because that's what Ecuador needs in this case. How do you monitor the forest? How do you monitor the crops? How do you balance the environment with the development of the cities? And that's a lot of data and information that needs to be captured, processed, analyzed, interpreted, and then make the final decisions. So that's a big hole in this new development, is great, we have technologies, but who's going to use it, and how that's going to drive benefit for the business leaders or government officials? So that's really exciting for us right now that MILO was able to sign an agreement with the American Chamber of Commerce, with the University of San Francisco de Quito, with ESPOL University, University de las Fuerzas, [inaudible], Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, and next week -- no, next month, we're going to have a visitor of from the Space Foundation, the Space Foundation, they have a very great program for STEM education for primary and secondary. So what we would like to do is develop this pipeline here from all the young students getting excited early on about what space and science can do for them. So they can continue through elementary school and high school, so they don't drop out, because there's always very high dropout rates. And then, they can start thinking, okay, college is an opportunity for me, and maybe they can find a career there, and now they can continue the next step. And also, when I was in the university, there was very high drop-out rates because people cannot find job opportunities with the path they would like to follow. So amplifying that and making things that are focused towards service solutions for the private sector, it's definitely a channel to create that type of value there. So what we'd like to do is first just to go through this process, and when they reach the end line that they graduate from the university, is one, they become the best possible candidates, so the private sector can hire them, any type of company, because what they'll do is they'll do is they'll bring a wealth of experience and knowledge of new technologies that they can apply for these companies that they're going to be looking to update their business models in the next decade. And then, if they want to become entrepreneurs, then they can follow that path and try to provide the support for them to grow and develop and form part of the ecosystem. So those things are very important as we think about the ecosystem development, and that's what we want to show the young people here in Ecuador that, you know, you have to be ready, because the world is changing, you're not going to only compete in your local neighborhood, in your local city, in your country, you're competing against billions of people around the world for what is happening right now. And the local companies also need to be aware of these high rapid changes in technology about how they can leverage that to their benefit. And that's how we're starting and how we're promoting, because we definitely want to emphasize the use of research, locations, you know. How we can go ahead and apply that for our crops, for diseases. Like in the case of the banana plants, there's funguses that definitely provide a lot of harm. So there's a lot of opportunities there to see, because in space, you know, it's such a wonderful laboratory to do science, because the conditions cannot be replicated on Earth, and you can learn so much there, and then the goal of having the spaceport in Ecuador, which is to provide a place for -- in America to have space access, and I think this is really relevant, because this definitely could be the most important project for the region in the next 100 years because imagine what it would mean for Latin America to have access to space in a meaningful way, commercial, private actors participating, driving this growth, and then, thinking what would happen in 100 years, if we did not have that? How -- the local dynamics of this whole region can change, and one of the examples that I started thinking of is what would happen, for example, to our city in Guayaquil? Guayaquil is a big, dynamic trading spot where the board system has allowed it to develop through history, you know, connections of trade across the region, and that allowed the banana sector to develop, the shrimp sector to develop, cocoa, another food export that drives a great part of the export economy. If we wouldn't have a seaport, then we wouldn't be able to develop those industries. And I think the same applies to a spaceport concept is what that infrastructure will allow the new generation of entrepreneurs to come up with next. But if they do not have the infrastructure, they won't be able to leverage that for their success.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's such an important point. It's something I talk about with my producer a lot, as well. The infrastructure conversation is not always everybody's favorite thing, but it is so crucial, and especially when you're looking forward, as you were saying, you have to put those pieces in place, and it's such an important conversation. So I'm really glad you brought that up. Ecuador is literally perfectly positioned to benefit from a spaceport. So, I really hope that happens, and I will be looking at great -- with great interest to see how things go there. I just wanted to also sort of to give you the floor. You have done something really incredible, again getting Ecuador to sign the Artemis Accord is not a small thing. I wanted to just give you the opportunity to mention anything that maybe we haven't addressed or something that you wanted to talk about that I haven't touched on, anything there.

>> Robert Aillon: I think one of the most important opportunities is what's going to happen Artemis next and how these group of countries that are coming together definitely contribute and offer something meaningful. But for many of them, you know, it's the first time getting involved in such a high endeavor. So there's the need for help, for assistance, and I think it's a great opportunity for the US to show leadership in providing, you know, either scholarships, funding for education, assistance for the research and the science that needs to be needed. In this case, many countries need a space agency. Some of the Artemis countries do not have a space agency themselves. So I think that's a great opportunity to help shape the national strategy of each country, because many countries do not have a national strategy, and once we develop a national strategy vision about what role each country plays and how it collaborates with the rest, then you can start thinking about okay, if I'm going to be focusing on this, I need to develop not only the space agency, but focus my education sector to be able to participate, or focus my existing industry to that, or create new laws and regulations to support the development of this. And I think that's very, very important, and that's definitely that I would love to see, you know, the US take a lead in providing that framework, that assistance, that help, to be able to bring all the actors, private, academic, and government officials in each country to be able to determine their own path for success in Artemis.

>> Maria Varmazis: Very well said, and I hope they hear you. I'm sure they will through us, as well. That's such a good point, and I want to just leave it there, because I think that that's a great way to end our interview, but Robert, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for walking me through this multiyear, massive project with great success. Congratulations. It's a wonderful thing, and I look forward to watching how Ecuador continues to thrive. So thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

>> Robert Aillon: Maria, thank you for the invitation, and please, I hope that you can visit us in Ecuador soon.

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>> Maria Varmazis: And that's it for T-Minus Deep Space for July 22, 2023. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth, mixing by Elliot Peltzman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliot Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis: Thanks for listening.

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