Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Coffee in Space

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti drinks coffee in the Cupola, the new Zero-G Cup!
Coffee in Space

When you think of the types of food and beverages that astronauts consume, you probably imagine dehydrated fruits, freeze-dried ice cream, and juice sealed in shiny foil bags. But astronauts recently added a new, more earthly item to their menu; authentic Italian espresso.

On April 20th, a new piece of highly-specialized equipment was added to the ISS. Argotec, an Italian engineering firm known for innovations in space cuisine, teamed up with Italian coffee company Lavazza to create the first espresso capsule machine to work in microgravity. Aptly named “ISSpresso”, the 40 lb espresso machine, which was delivered to the ISS by the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule, was a much appreciated addition to the ISS by the astronauts aboard.

“Italian coffee is a beverage without borders” said Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice President of Lavazza, “and we have been thinking about taking the espresso into space for some time.” 
While it may not seem like a huge scientific advancement to some, a lot had to be learned about the behavior of fluid dynamics in low-gravity environments in order for the ISSpresso to work correctly and safely. This information can be used to create improved plumbing and cooling systems and even fuel tanks for the ISS or future space stations.

Any knowledgable coffee drinker know that part of the experience of drinking coffee is the aroma. Taste and smell go hand in hand, so drinking authentic Italian espresso through a straw out of a vacuum sealed bag just doesn’t seem right.

The Zero-G Cup
Photo Courtesy: Mark Weisloge
That’s why the Zero-G cup has been invented. You might think that the liquid contents of a cup in space would not be easily contained and would float out of the cup, but in reality it’s the opposite that occurs. Without gravity acting on the liquid, coffee tends to stick to the inner surface of a standard coffee mug due to surface tension forces. It would be nearly impossible to drink an entire cup of coffee or tea without gravity, and the drink would sit at the bottom of the cup. To fight this, the Zero-G cup has a creased edge that whips the beverage up towards the spout. When a connection is made between the cup and the lips, the drink is free to flow into the mouth, and every last drop can be enjoyed. Currently on the space station, there are 6 Zero-G cups specifically designed for espresso shots, and more can easily be 3D printed if needed.

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