Space is no longer exclusive to astronauts and astronomers. It has become a limitless laboratory for startups, corporations, and institutions to test their experiments thanks to a single ingredient that does not exist on Earth: microgravity. What is microgravity and what new experimental frontiers does it open?
We sat down with 3 space experimentation experts on our VivaTech stage in 2022 to learn more. Nicolas Gaume, Co-founder and CEO of Space Cargo unlimited, Hélène Huby, Co-founder and CEO of The Exploration Company, and Daniel Campbell, Managing Director of SpacePharma gave us their insights on what’s going on in space.
What is microgravity research?
Astronauts have been experimenting on the International Space Station (ISS) since the late 90s. Research centers, pharmaceutical companies, and even middle school classrooms have sent projects into space to understand the effects of microgravity – the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless.
“The ISS is a pressurized vehicle, in orbit about 450 kilometers above our heads,” explained Nicolas Gaume whose company sent viticulture experiments to the ISS. “Inside the space station, everything is recreated to feel like earth: temperature, pressure, oxygen level. But one thing is not – gravity. And that changes everything.”
Without gravity, experiments in space can have completely different results compared to ones carried out on Earth. Gaume’s experiments on the ISS used this factor in its research of grape plants and wine production.
“We took grape plants from Bordeaux and sent them to the ISS for 10 months. We then brought them back and replanted on earth,” Gaume said.
Because these plants were exposed to a microgravity environment, the plants were more resistant to stressors on Earth like mildew disease or changes in water levels. “Now wine producers can buy these plants which are more resistant to climate change thanks to this ‘boot camp’ that the space environment has given them.”