Space has not traditionally been a destination to enjoy delicious food. Without gravity to help clear their sinuses, astronauts are left with a dulled sense of taste.

But, at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, associate professor of marketing Carlos Velasco and colleagues are working to develop more appetising meals for space travellers. “Space captured my imagination early in life and we saw an opportunity to tackle some of the challenges that space travellers may face,” says Velasco, a “multisensory marketing” specialist. “We want to position food — which is a multisensory experience in itself — beyond nutrition.”

Together with academics at the University of Sussex in the UK and Carnegie Mellon University in the US, his team at BI Norwegian has developed three concepts for use in zero gravity. These include a mixing pod where solid spices are dissolved into food for flavour and texture; a 3D printer that astronauts can use to make food that enhances the emotional experience of eating; and small bites with distinct flavours from different cultures or moments in life that are combined with virtual and augmented reality.

It might seem a lot of effort for the few people lucky enough to travel in space. “But research and development in the space industry often results in innovations that also provide solutions for humanity’s small and big challenges,” Velasco argues, citing inventions such as freeze-dried food, home insulation and water purification systems.

Carlos Velasco performing a test with scents kit and VR goggles
Carlos Velasco tests food aromas at BI Norwegian Business School © Ilja C Hendel

Velasco’s menu is still at the concept stage, but other European business schools are turning space-age ideas into reality.

At the University of Exeter Business School in south-west England, Professor Nikita Chiu is launching an undergraduate module early next year on the “economy of space”. Open to students from different disciplines and hosted at the university’s Penryn campus, the module will offer a chance to examine past achievements — and missteps — in space. It aims to help students envision a more responsible and sustainable space future, says Chiu, a senior lecturer in innovation policy at Exeter and named Ad Astra Distinguished Fellow in Robotic and Outer Space Governance at the Space Engineering Research Center of the University of Southern California.

“There’s no other sector more intriguing than space,” says Chiu. “When we look up to the stars, we’re actually looking into the past, and yet the space sector is very much about building for the future.”

The course, she says, will draw on insights from business studies, the history of science and technology, engineering and global governance to understand how policy, technology and business intersect to enable the space economy.

“For those determined to make a career in the space sector, I hope they’ll be able to apply what they’ve learnt with us to instil positive changes, bringing new ideas to an established industry and making it more diverse, more responsible and more sustainable,” says Chiu, who is also a mentor for Space4Women, a network organised by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

Meanwhile, the first six students recently graduated from Europe’s inaugural Space for Business programme, an executive education course for space professionals, entrepreneurs and companies interested in developing their ventures. The course is a partnership between Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) at Erasmus University, Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, the University of St Gallen in Switzerland and the European Space Agency.

Space is the new economic frontier, says programme director René Olie, who is also associate professor of strategic management at RSM. Investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that the $350bn global space industry could surge to more than $1tn by 2040. Yet, while many companies in this sector start with strong ambitions and ideas, they often lack the management knowledge and skills to grow their business.

“Many in this industry have engineering backgrounds with limited training in business education,” says Olie. “Another reason to start the programme was the rapid changes taking place in the industry which make it attractive for non-space entrepreneurs and companies to enter the industry, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.”

The three schools began discussing the idea in 2019. On the programme, St Gallen focuses on space environment and space business models, Nova specialises in entrepreneurship and funding, while RSM takes a lead on the scaling-up process, innovation and leadership. The next programme will run in early 2024, with plans to expand the cohort to about 15-20 participants.

Space entrepreneurs are also being targeted by HEC Paris, which earlier this year rolled out a business support programme within its Creative Destruction Lab incubator. Launched in partnership with Toronto’s Rotman School and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, the nine-month programme has space for 40 start-ups as it seeks to lend scientific space research an entrepreneurial perspective.

But Franz Viehböck is one of the few people who can attest to the rare perspective that visiting space brings to life, business and education. Austria’s first, and so far only, astronaut has been a speaker at Vienna-based WU Executive Academy’s short programmes on pioneers. He has worked with Nasa and Boeing, and is now chief executive of steel product manufacturer Berndorf Group, whose employees he regularly puts through executive education at WU. “The view of Earth from space was overwhelming,” he says. “You no longer see artificial geographical boundaries, but the big picture.

“There’s a spirit of optimism in the aerospace industry, which means that, with courage and commitment, you can make many things happen,” he adds. “Innovations are highly welcomed and appreciated, in contrast to many other sectors. It’s about having the courage to be entrepreneurial and overcome setbacks — it doesn’t necessarily mean having to fly into space yourself.”

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