For astronauts, brewing coffee in space has meant combining a coffee powder with water reclaimed from urine and other waste. MMmmmm.
In space, there’s no gravity for your standard drip coffee, let alone something that can simulate the nine bars (130 psi) of of pressure from an espresso machine. Until now.
This week, Italian coffee company Lavazza and Italian aerospace firm Argotec announced that they have developed the ISSpresso, an espresso maker for a weightless environment. Lavazza has been roasting coffee for the Earth-bound since 1895, and selling coffee brewing systems for decades. Argotec is tasked by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the development and supply of space food development European astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), from which the ISSpresso takes its name.
As the announcement aptly points out, in space, “the principles that regulate the fluid dynamics of liquids and mixtures are very different from those typical on Earth.” The ISSpresso will use a capsule extraction system — you won’t see astronauts grinding beans and tamping fine coffee grounds, pulling shots, and creating those puck-like post-espresso bricks. The machine, which weighs approximately 20 kg (about 45 pounds for the metric-system impaired), which the companies attribute to “back-ups of all the critical components for safety reasons in accordance with the specifications agreed upon with the Italian Space Agency.” One of the considerations of getting a java fix in space is how to handle high pressure and high temperature liquids. The ISSpresso forgoes the typical plastic tubing in favor of a steal tube that can withstand 400+ bars of pressure. The uses of the ISSpresso go beyond just espresso, though; the announcement indicates that the machine will have the flexibility to create, among other things, “tea, infusions and broth.”
The value of the project goes beyond the certainly important benefits of allowing our planet’s explorers a dose of caffeine and a taste of home. The companies cite that the ISSpresso’s creation and utilization will add to “our understanding of the principles of fluid dynamics and conditions in microgravity,” adding that, “some of the solutions adopted have led to international patents, which will be useful both for future space missions and immediate terrestrial use.
The ISSpresso machine prototype is undergoing testing currently, and is anticipated to be taken into orbit with the ASI (Italy’s space agency)/European Space Agency’s joint Futura Mission; that mission is slated to begin its six-month journey in November. If Lavazza and Argotec can deliver, that means the first espresso in space will arrive with the first Italian woman in space, Air Force Captain Samantha Cristoforetti.
Images: ISSpresso protoype, Argotec