Nasa astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts conduct rodent research investigations within the Microgravity Science Glovebox and the Rodent Habitat Module aboard the International Space Station
The microgravity environment in space provides ideal conditions for microbiological research, but how to create more laboratories in space? Cue Space Cargo Unlimited.
When astronaut and identical twin Scott Kelly returned from almost a year in the International Space Station (ISS), researchers compared him with his brother and discovered changes in his genes.
The findings have significant implications for microbiology and it was with this in mind that American entrepreneur Nicolas Gaume founded Space Cargo Unlimited in Luxembourg.
“The absence of gravity is interesting. It creates a strong stress on life, it creates a phenomenon where life fights back,” Gaume said, adding: “In the absence of gravity, it tries to put things in order. Most of the time, it fails and the organism dies. Sometimes they resist, and find means to evolve and adapt.”
This can, Gaume says, lead to the evolution of more resistant cells, be they in the human body or plants. The implications of working in such an environment could be groundbreaking in terms of developing cures and plant varieties which are resistant to weather extremes.
But, the difficulty is how and where to conduct such experiments. Until now, only a limited number of experiments could be carried out on the ISS for safety and logistic reasons. Gaume thinks he may have found a solution--by leveraging space vehicles for microgravity experiments.
“Space vehicles are becoming more affordable,” he explained, referring to Elon Musk’s Space X project, which has dramatically brought down the cost of space transport. “We want to leverage vehicles to do more autonomous [experiments], because we’re setting up equipment that doesn’t require human intervention.”
Co-founder and CEO at Space Cargo Unlimited Nicolas Gaume. Photo: SCU
Gaume sees SCU as the intermediary for leveraging vehicles while on their journeys to the moon or Mars.
“In that way, SCU is a microbiology research platform,” he said, adding: “It’s a company to manage projects.”
SCU says it has partnerships with the University of Bordeaux, Gaume's home town in France, as well as the University of Nuremberg, in Germany. And there are plans to fly on missions in partnership with the European Space Agency and French Space Agency. SCU's first mission is expected to be announced in the coming months.
SCU is Gaume's tenth startup. While he has no space background, he points out that neither did Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Indeed, his expertise lies in entrepreneurship, finding the right people to get things off the ground and financing projects.
Unlike many newspace firms in Luxembourg, SCU is purely privately funded. In addition to investing his own money, he has come up with a novel way to finance the first mission: space chests. These one-off, hand-crafted, luxury travel chests, designed with Ateliers Victor, contain found objects, “going to or returning from space”.
“We have very wealthy individuals from around the world who are very sensitive to what we are trying to achieve,” Gaume said, adding: “They bought these chests because they love what’s in them.”