Private space companies like Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and Blue Origin could provide a significant boost to the speed and frequency of space research projects, according to Moran Bercovici, a mechanical engineering professor at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

Bercovici is involved in the Fluidic Telescope Experiment (FLUTE) with NASA, which aims to revolutionize space astronomy. He feels that private space companies have a great deal to offer scientific research.

“They make space more accessible to research teams around the world,” he told MarketWatch. “In the future, the private companies have all the incentives to streamline this – you can quickly go from idea to experiment in space.”

“I am very happy that the companies are making these links with science,” Bercovici added.

Related: Virgin Galactic makes first commercial spaceflight, transporting Italian researchers into space

Virgin Galactic’s
SPCE,
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first commercial spaceflight, for example, transported three crew members from the Italian air force and the National Research Council of Italy into space to conduct research on microgravity.

Bercovici explained how his team at the Technion has been working with private space company Axiom Space to conduct experiments on the International Space Station. Last year the company’s Ax-1 mission to the orbiting space lab was described as the first private mission to the ISS.

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During the mission, Israeli commercial astronaut Eytan Stibbe conducted an experiment on fluidic space optics for the Technion, in collaboration with NASA as part of the FLUTE project. “He created lenses in space using our technology,” Bercovici said. FLUTE’s long-term goal is to create a soccer-field-sized space telescope that could be used to image exoplanets outside our solar system, according to Bercovici.

While Axiom’s Ax-1 mission lasted 17 days, shorter flights where astronauts spend just a few minutes in microgravity can also be highly useful Bercovici explained. The Technion, he noted, conducts experiments on parabolic flights that create zero-gravity conditions. “However, that time is very short – about 15 to 20 seconds of microgravity – we couldn’t create solid lenses in that time,” he said. “We need one minute … jumping from 15 seconds to three minutes in space is a big deal.”

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“We have a lot of experiments we can do in three minutes,” he added.

While the fluidic space optics experiment on the ISS was a year in the making, Bercovici said he also sees opportunities to speed up the process of getting experiments into space. “Quick turnaround time is very important for research,” he said. “You also need to fail quick. Not all experiments are successful.”

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“My hope is that this turnaround time is going to get shorter,” Bercovici added.


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