Fernando de la Peña Llaca, CEO and president of Aexa Aerospace, sells spacecraft components to NASA and the US Department of Defense.
This Mexican plays in the big space leagues. Fernando de la Peña Llaca, CEO and president of Aexa Aerospace, remembers being told that he was “nuts” when he put on the table that he could build a spacecraft engine. This engineering work has not yet been completed or launched … to Mars, but it has already opened the door for you to be a contractor for NASA.
“My university thesis was an engine for a spacecraft, and that allowed me to be here at NASA,” Peña Llaca tells Forbes Mexico.
Already being in the game of the space industry in the United States, “you are seeing [the situation] and you realize the projects and the new needs,” says the engineer in Cybernetics and Computer Systems graduated from La Salle University, in Mexico City.
Since he was a child, De la Peña Llaca liked drawings of flying cars. He was also influenced by his homeland, Tulancingo, known as “the city of satellites”, by those imposing white antennas that the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to use to set up the Mexsat Satellite System.
Today, the man from Hidalgo does business and is a contractor for the United States Department of Defense and NASA. Its technological solutions are already seen as projects aimed at conquering space spearheaded by NASA, millionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, and the Lockheed Martin company, led by James D. Taiclet.
“The most difficult thing [to enter the US space industry] is not to create the company, but to build a talented team that will make you successful projects, as well as get [you] accepted by NASA to be one of its suppliers,” says the president of Aexa Aerospace. Currently, nine out of 10 companies within NASA are contractors.
The Mexican engineer had to “change the chip” to compete with other companies to sell services and products to NASA.
“The tenders are different [in the United States], since you have to make a history of what you will do in the next four years, day by day; how are you going to spend the money and what is the technological improvement, apart from the economic one ”, he exposes.
Each contract is a bet of four years of work, “and, if you fail, that time becomes a waiting time. Learning the methods and rules of the game, it is easy to compete in NASA, although they always require a technological contribution ”, he adds.
The ideology of a businessman in Mexico is different from that of a US investor: “In Mexico, many companies are run like family businesses, and there is no structure to think long-term, that is, four or six years”, aim. Aexa Aerospace has contracts for services, holographic communications and manufacturing of components for spacecraft built at NASA research centers in Houston, Alabama, Colorado and Florida.
“We are helping to build a ship called Lucy, from Lockheed Martin, which is going to explore some Trojan asteroids, and right now NASA is using [those ships] a lot,” adds Fernando de la Peña Llaca.
Trojan asteroids are two groups of asteroids that drive and follow Jupiter in its orbit around the Sun. Scientists have evidence that asteroids were scattered throughout the outer Solar System early in its history and have been trapped for more than 4 billion of years. No spaceship has ever been in this population of small bodies, and Lucy will fly through seven of these Trojan asteroids.
The Mexican company developed the holographic teleportation or communications training, which is in spacecraft such as SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, and contributed to Boeing’s developments.
“Level one of communication is by telephone; level two is a video conference, and level three is to teleport as a hologram and interact with you [or whoever you want]. We are the first to do it in space with our technology, that of Aexa Aerospace ”, says the Mexican engineer, who detects a leak of national talent abroad. “It’s the work and the mind that make people fit for the big space leagues.”
Fernando de la Peña Llaca’s university dream is still valid. The engine patent for the spacecraft was won worldwide. Although it is not yet built, he exhibited it at the United States Department of Defense for a project in development.
“The engine described in the thesis … if it is built, it will be done in five or ten years, because it is designed for missions to the planet Mars,” he says.