Fourteen years after the first astronauts arrived on the International Space Station, the orbiting laboratory is to take delivery of a “veritable technological and engineering jewel” – the first espresso coffee-maker designed to work off planet Earth.
The ISSpresso machine, created by Italian engineers and coffee experts to operate in microgravity, will allow crew members fed up with the taste of instant granules a more gourmet experience during their coffee break and an important psychological boost.
“Italian coffee is a beverage without borders,” said Giuseppe Lavazza, vice president of the Lavazza coffee company that collaborated on the project with the Turin-based aerospace engineering company Argotec and the Italian Space Agency.
“Today we are in a position to overcome the limits of weightlessness and enjoy a good espresso on board the International Space Station… a real coffee, of the kind one drinks in a café – good, hot and steaming” he added, noting that it will “improve the living quality of astronauts engaged on long missions.”
Because liquids behave differently in microgravity, designing an espresso machine capable of creating an authentic espresso – which infuses ground coffee under steam pressure and is topped with froth – required elaborate engineering.
Plastic tubing could not withstand the high pressures and high temperatures of space travel, so the ISSpresso’s internal plumbing is made of steel. Every component has a fail-safe mechanism to prevent accidents that could send scorching fluid drifting through the orbiting laboratory, where the lack of gravity renders everything weightless, and to guard against stray drips that could damage equipment.
Argotec managing director David Avino said: “It is the first espresso system able to work in the extreme conditions of space, where the principles that regulate the fluid dynamics of liquids and mixtures are very different from those typical on Earth.”
The company also helps to train astronauts and flight controllers for space missions, and develops Italian-themed foods for consumption in orbit – such as tiramisu and lasagne.
Mr Avino said: “Food provides an important psychological support and being able to enjoy a good Italian espresso may be just the right way to finish off the menu designed especially for each astronaut, helping him or her to feel closer to home.
“ISSpresso represents a technologically high-value project which, besides increasing the variety of flavour in the astronauts’ menu, will help improve our understanding of the principles of fluid dynamics and conditions in microgravity. Some of the solutions adopted have led to international patents, which will be useful both for future space missions and immediate terrestrial use.”
The device has taken two years to develop and measures little more than a shoebox, but weighs 44lb. It will be delivered to the ISS early next year, coinciding with a tour of duty by Italian Air Force Captain Samantha Cristoforetti, who will be Italy’s first woman in space.
“How cool is that? I’ll get to operate the first space espresso machine,” she commented on Twitter.