Wanted: your ideas for ESA’s future space missions

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Everything started in early September when I received a message from Arches’ managing director sharing the link to the European Space Agency (ESA) Open Space Innovation Platform (OSIP) where “anyone” could submit ideas.

My first reaction was somehow surprised (“what have I to do with ESA?….”) but the seed was there and probably found fertile ground, because after a couple of days I contacted him and PROBIONOVA R&D Manager to share my idea.

Indeed, the message in the OSIP Platform was challenging on one side, but also inviting the reader to dare on the other:

Do you have a compelling idea for a future space mission? Then we want to hear it. ESA is issuing an open call for new mission concepts across its entire range of activities. Anyone is encouraged to submit in response, from research institutes and companies to ‘citizen scientist’ members of the public.

“… it’s time to plant the seeds for new programmatic decisions on new missions and new space projects” were the key words that convinced me that if you believe, it’s all possible.

In addition, of course, I knew I could count on a outstanding network of scientists and clinicians, as well as experts of technological solutions and Artificial Intelligence.

The biggest goal was to convince them to follow me in this “mission”.

Michela Bianco Prevot

The real strength of this network was mainly related to the disrupting and innovative approach to scientific topics and their applicative criteria, allowing to figure out an idea where Earth and Space could interact and linkage, thanks to a cross talk beneficial to the health of both humans and astronauts, by translating terrestrial clinical outcomes on microbiome, metagenome and metabolomic sciences into novel space applications.

The final aim being the involvement of transversal competencies and implementation of innovative technologies and microbial/metabolic compounds that could impact human healthy and/or pathologic conditions with great scientific, economic and social relevance both at Earth and Space levels.

Here how we reach to perfectly match the scope of ESA challenging opportunity for investing in novel mission ideas and new unconventional activities.

Our mission idea was submitted mid-October, immediately selected and upgraded to the HOT status, and today selected out of 102 ideas for further implementation. In a month we will participate to a scoping workshop with other projects.

Indeed, the real challenge is starting now: we will be asked to substantiate our idea, let’s say upgrading it to a real project status and illustrating how we would implement it in case we will be further selected to the pre-phase A of the project.

Marco Boccarusso

This is the phase where a simulation of the whole project is conducted (pilot scale demonstration) to prove the feasibility. That means the most critical part of the project.

Therefore, during the scoping workshop, we should be able to describe more in details the 3 core steps of our idea, precisely:

  • The TECHNOLOGICAL part focused on the improvement of the cultivation of specific anaerobic strains and their fermentation under space conditions (micro gravity and/or absence of oxygen);
  • The SCIENTIFIC part deepening at microbial and metabolomic level to target specific strains (next generation bacteria) to be tested both in human and astronauts’ trials;
  • The APPLICATIVE part aiming to establish an earth/space cross talk to develop and improve the “new microbiome-based space treatment” (personalised medicine and omics concept) with correlated clinical outcomes, that could beneficially impact the healthy status of astronauts during their space missions as well as finding new applications on earth.

The journey is just started of course, we all have a great motivation to put at disposal our best competences and know how to ESA organisation because we are strongly convinced that only by sharing ideas and creating synergies, we can make incredible things happen!

And by using a metaphor, we find ourselves in the middle of a desert, the easiest question could be if we are lost. While we know that we are far ahead with our vision. Future is now. What’s next?

Michela Bianco Prevot
Marco Boccarusso