Israel Hayom header - Israel, Italy eye joint scientific space venture - Director of the Italian Space Agency Giorgio Saccoccia: Israel's global reputation as a 'startup nation' precedes it. Italy and Israel have been walking hand in hand for years now, and this trend is only getting stronger.

The Middle East is seen from 250 miles above in this photo from the International Space Station. Countries seen, left to right, along the Mediterranean coast include Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The Middle East is seen from 250 miles above in this photo from the International Space Station. Countries seen, left to right, along the Mediterranean coast include Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

A very unique space launch will take place at the end of March 2020, which will test medical experiments with potential for major breakthroughs.

The launch is a joint Israeli-Italian project, and the cooperation between the two in space is only part of the strengthening ties between Jerusalem and Rome down on earth. Less than two months ahead of the launch, Director of the Italian Space Agency Giorgio Saccoccia visited Israel as the guest of the 15th International Ilan Ramon Conference, which is part of the Israel Space Week organized by the Science and Technology Ministry.

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

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

One experiment, for example, is based on the research of Professor Giuseppe Falini from the University of Bologna and Prof. Boaz Pokroy from the Technion, that studies the behavior in space of antibacterial materials and their influence on bacteria in zero gravity conditions. As there are no astronauts on the satellite, the experiment will be supervised from earth.

Head of the Italian Space Agency Giorgio Saccoccia“This experiment is not only a great example of the close relationship between the two countries, it could also have significant business potential”, says Saccoccia in a special interview with Israel Hayom

“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.”

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

“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, Saccoccia said, “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% 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 undergoes 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?

“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 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 ($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.”