Thus changes life in space, beyond the atmosphere, as on Earth. A destination for the most exotic travel ever conceived, a luxury holiday, a technological laboratory within the reach of large companies or small and medium-sized enterprises. As the frontier expands to the moon, new tourism and new exploration are invented. We expand out of curiosity to explore, but also to discover new economic opportunities to exploit. At the New Space Economy Expoforum in Rome, from Thursday 1 to Saturday 3 December, there will be dozens of topics on the table, as well as the number of international guests, to reason, during the annual event now in its fourth edition, on the economic prospects of a sector that promises to reach one thousand billion euros in global value in a few years. Chair of the conference, this year, is the physicist Rodolfo Guzzi and the focus is on sustainability, declined in the various spatial sectors, from exploration to climate, from land monitoring to technological innovations. In line with the philosophy of space, where it is essential to save weight, energy, resources, in hostile and distant environments. Some of the protagonists of the three days dedicated to the orbit and the Moon business talk about their ideas for the future.
Italy and the Space Race: the country’s choices will be crucial
by Emilio Cozzi
Living beyond the atmosphere
The space stations that we will know in the 1930s will be very different from the environments inhabited by astronauts and that we see every day in the videos and photos of NASA or the European Space Agency (ESA). We have learned to live in space, but as if it were a boat at anchor, a stone’s throw from the Earth, in low orbit. That was the frontier 20 years ago, now it is becoming the destination of the new business of the new space economy: “It is a moment of waiting, one wonders how we will continue to go into space – reflects Veronica La Regina, sole administrator of Nanoracks Europe , ‘subsidiary’ of the American company specializing in space logistics – we now have two outposts in orbit (the ISS and the Tiangong, the Chinese station ndr) and up to now there has been a still predominant model of public expenditure, under an exclusive regime, which however is evolving in the participation of private individuals. I am in favor of a scenario with several space stations, each one will deal with sustainability, with public and private resources, but the more platforms there are, the lower the price will be”.
The project and evolution of the Axiom private space station
As we approach the Moon again, around our home space is increasingly crowded with economic aims: “Around the Earth we think of real space hotels, we will have many private vehicles capable of transporting back and forth not only professional astronauts, such as ‘has been so far, but also scientists and technicians, people who don’t need to be trained to manage a space station – explains Walter Cugno, vice president of the Exploration and Science domain of Thales Alenia Space”.
Thales Alenia Space has built some of the pressurized modules that make up the ISS, the Turin plants are now developing the space environments for the Moon, those of the Gateway, the orbiting station. But now he is also working on the first commercial space station in orbit around the Earth, built by Axiom space: “The Gateway will be the outpost for lunar missions and, in the future, towards Mars. It will be dedicated to science and to the support of descent operations on the surface of the Moon and back – continues Cugno – that of Axiom will instead be a station designed for the market, usable by private individuals or even by universities and governments, with a much wider use and business oriented. Research will be done, in the field of medicine or technological developments, for example on materials. But there will also be spaces dedicated to playful times, equipped with comforts, very different from those of the ISS”.
Simulation of what the interior of one of the space hotels could look like. Credit: Axiom space
The comparison you hear most often is with aeronautics and travel. At the beginning of the 1900s, flying was for the fearless few. Now Nanoracks is also planning a private space station together with Lockheed Martin to bring scientists, engineers to work in microgravity, and tourists to take a leap beyond the Karman line: “I think space will become a destination, like there are on Earth exotic places, which were once accessible only to the privileged – continues La Regina – I imagine it as a destination for a honeymoon”. The Queen, who is also the commercial director of the Logic Sistemi Avionics group, which supplies electronic systems and wiring for aeronautics and space, has a privileged observatory on the opportunities opened up by increasingly agile access to orbit: “The production of what space requires great reliability and more resilient and redundant systems than the earth, because there is no hardware store up there. Exposure to extremely hot temperatures and extremely cold ones, cosmic radiation, all qualify space as a high-stress laboratory. This creates innovation”.
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Another so-called driver is that of weight and size requirements, which favors miniaturization: “What can be done with a 40cm box must be done in a 4cm box. And from space they return to Earth as spinoff innovations, it is less talked about than in the 90s. Thirty years ago if I bought a mobile phone it was news, now it’s not anymore”. His vision of space goes beyond mere experience in orbit. There is an entire sector waiting to be able to fly, without wings, aboard microsatellites or technological platforms that are being created to carry out research and development: “Let’s think of telecommunications systems, where instead of buying a mobile phone we will each have a personal cubesat, and we will participate in the infrastructure, not only as users” suggests La Regina.
The Space Rider, the European Space Agency’s reusable shuttle for in-orbit experiments. Credits: ESA-Jacky Huart
Before it was all left to the space agencies, now things are changing, even very quickly. Industrialists and entrepreneurs have come forward (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson are just a few, the tip of the iceberg) able to seize opportunities and with a portfolio capable of withstanding business risk. “They are the spokespersons of an entrepreneurial vision for access to space – underlines La Regina – the global effort must be to move towards non-prohibitive conditions of access”. It is in this environment, floating in microgravity, a condition that cannot be recreated on Earth, that experiments such as that of Nanoracks and Federico II University have led to the study for the treatment of osteoporosis, and drug molecules, the behavior of cells and tissue bioprinting for future applications in medicine, also and above all on Earth. At the last ministerial conference, ESA, led by Italy, recently refinanced the Space Rider program, the reusable orbital shuttle that will serve precisely this purpose.
Italy and the Space Race: the country’s choices will be crucial
by Emilio Cozzi
Moon: come back to live there
There will also be talk of the Moon during the Expoforum, hard not to while Artemis I, the first mission of NASA’s new lunar program, is still up there. The American slogan is “we come back to stay”, so one has to think about how to live on the new frontier: “Around the Moon and on the surface we will return to a somewhat pioneering era with professional astronauts who have many different, less specialized skills – he observes Cugno – there will be less autonomy because the distance is much greater, we will remain at the beginning for short periods due to the radiation”. Many will not have escaped how in the latest selections, among new astronauts, including those of ESA, not only engineers and pilots were selected, but also doctors, surgeons and specialists in emergency interventions. The moon is a dangerous place.
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The plans are to look for ice, on the Moon, to derive energy from water, perhaps rare earths. Materials such as moon dust will be used to build shelters and a “moon village”, using regolith as “cement”. “Twenty years ago I found myself at NASA working on the ISS, it was the first important initiative to put life out of the earth, in low orbit, after we built it we began to think about what to do with it – says Mauro Piermaria, Director of Programs and Strategies at the Office for Space and Aerospace Policies of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers – today, however, the new missions to the Moon and Mars have been designed with a different idea, for a normal life like on Earth”.
The lunar village with shelters built with robots and 3D printing as imagined by ESA. Credits: ESA/Foster + Partners
Unlike the Apollo missions, the Moon will be like a territory to be conquered, services and infrastructures will have to be connected: “We will need to think about more complex missions. The investments that we have already underway and put in place in the new ESA ministerial concern on-site telecommunications, an internet connection, navigation”, adds Piermaria. Private companies are moving down this area, such as for NASA’s Commercial lunar payload service program, in which Qascom, an Italian aerospace and defense company, is one of the international leaders in satellite navigation and cybersecurity services.
Internet on the Moon
Among the protagonists of the Nse Expoforum there will also be Oscar Pozzobon, president and CEO of Qascom: “We currently have four contracts in the lunar field – he explains – with ESA to study the technological needs to bring man back to the Moon, with a system navigation both on the satellite side and on the user side; a contract for the Lugre mission, with ASI and NASA, in which we will try, with an antenna and a GPS receiver, to connect a lunar lander even to the GPS and Galileo satellites that are in orbit around the Earth. For the first time an American lander will return to the Moon since the 1970s, we will be on board”.
Credits: NASA/Reese Patillo
Qascom also has a contract to create test systems to simulate signals from lunar satellites prior to design “up to create radio frequency signal exactly as an astronaut would see on the Moon” and with ESA for i moon beacons, signal generators on lunar bases for the radiolocation of lunar users (astronauts, rovers and gateways). Half a century after the first moon landing, not only are we thinking of bringing a constellation of satellites like those that surround the Earth (ESA is planning one: Moonlight) but companies will think about selling the service: “The aim is to have systems technologies similar to the Earth, potentially just like we use the cell phone for communications and navigation, both for astronauts and for vehicles – says Pozzobon – my feeling is that the lunar programs will have unprecedented economic results, like a leap into the past in 1492, when the Spanish government financed Columbus’s mission. I am convinced that difficult times, like this, create opportunities, and scientific explorations create economic growth on all fronts and the technological return will only bring great benefits”.
The New Space Economy European Expoforum is the annual event conceived and organized by the E. Amaldi Foundation and Fiera Roma, with the patronage of the Italian Space Agency, Cnel, Ice/Ita and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), Ingv, Tor Vergata University, the support of the European Space Agency and with the collaboration of the Lazio Region, the Chamber of Commerce of Rome, Lazio Innova and the Enterprise Europe network.