A unique space launch will take place at the end of March this year as part of a joint Israeli-Italian microgravity medical-experimentation project.

The cooperation between the two countries in space mirrors the strengthening ties between Jerusalem and Rome down on earth. Less than two months ahead of the launch, Italian Space Agency director Giorgio Saccoccia visited Israel last month as the guest of the 15th International Ilan Ramon Conference, which is part of the Israel Space Week organized by Israel’s Science and Technology Ministry.

The Israeli company SpacePharma and scientists from both countries are taking part in the project. SpacePharma is seen as a leader in microgravity experimentation, and has developed a miniature lab that can be launched on a nanosatellite.

Two of the experiments to be conducted as part of the project will be handled by the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, another will be overseen by the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, and yet another by Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

One of the experiments is based on the research of professor Giuseppe Falini of the University of Bologna and professor Boaz Pokroy from the Technion into the behavior in space of antibacterial materials and their influence on bacteria in zero-gravity conditions.

“This experiment is not only a great example of the close relationship between the two countries, it could also have significant business potential,” Saccoccia told Israel Hayom.

Italy, said Saccoccia, sees space as a new business frontier.

“Italy and Israel have been walking hand in hand for years now, and this trend is only getting stronger. Italy is very interested in space economy and technology, and sees space as a new arena for business opportunities,” he said.

Q: What is the singularity that Israel brings to space research?

A: First, it’s all true what is said about you: You are a ‘startup nation,’ and around the world your reputation precedes you. You incorporate technology education and a positive attitude to entrepreneurship, and especially space, at a young age, in schools, and there’s no doubt that you are reaping what you have sown later on.

As to the question of what business opportunities will be available in space in the future, especially concerning the cooperation between Israel and Italy, the sky is the limit, literally.

As of today, the world space industry is valued at $50 billion and is growing at a rate of 7 percent per year. The potential for growth could even reach half a trillion dollars—10 times what it is today. We’re talking about mutual research and development—technologies developed for space that undergo adaptations for daily use. And years later, space travel will become cheaper and people will want to fly to space. But the type of travel will be different and will require adaptations.

Q: Do you want to see more Israeli businessmen in Italy?

A: Certainly. Even now, when Italians hear the word “Israel,” they think of business opportunities, and we want this to happen in the other direction as well. We’re cooperating today with academic institutions in Israel, and private Italian companies are cooperating with [defense technology firm] Rafael and other Israeli companies. The economy is a fantastic way to strengthen diplomatic ties.

The Italian space agency has undergone something of a revolution in recent years. Its budget has doubled and now stands at 1.6 billion euros ($1.75 billion), half of it directed to the European Space Agency.

Israel Space Agency director Avi Blasberger told Israel Hayom that “until today, all the experiments in microgravity conditions have been conducted in the international space station and supervised by astronauts. This current Israeli-Italian cooperation will allow any scientist to conduct their experiments, with better access and independence.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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