CLOSE
Argotec/Lavazza
Argotec/Lavazza

An Espresso Machine Designed for Space Travel

Argotec/Lavazza
Argotec/Lavazza

Astronauts orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station often miss the many comforts of home: A warm shower. Family time. And of course, a good cup of joe.

“‘An espresso coffee is what I miss most aboard the International Space Station.’ We have repeatedly heard this comment from the Italian astronauts,” says Italian coffee company Lavazza, which teamed up with aerospace engineering company Argotec to create an espresso machine designed specifically to be used in space. It’s called the ISSpresso (I-S-S for International Space Station. Get it?), and it arrived at its destination this morning, three days after leaving Earth on a SpaceX supply ship. Now astronauts can get a cup of coffee that is “good, hot, and steaming,” says Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice President of Lavazza.

The first pour will likely go to Italian Air Force Captain Samantha Cristoforetti. She’s been on the ISS for four months already, forced to drink instant coffee which, when you’re used to the glory that is Italian espresso, is torturous. "For an instant coffee, it's an excellent instant coffee," Vickie Kloeris, who manages the space station's food supply for NASA, tells NPR. “Can it compete with brewed espresso? No."

While the ISSpresso machine is specially designed to withstand space conditions, nobody really knows how it will behave. “The principles that regulate the fluid dynamics of liquids and mixtures are very different from those typical on Earth,” Lavazza says. In a normal espresso machine, the tubes that carry water are made of plastic. In the ISSpresso, they’re made of a special steel that can withstand extreme pressure. The machine is roughly the size of a microwave but weighs about 44 pounds.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: A little capsule containing the coffee is installed along with a water bag. When the brew is done, the coffee makes its way into a standard NASA drinking pouch, which can be removed—and voila—espresso in a bag. (They’re working on designing a little cup that could be used in zero gravity.) It’s sort of like the pod-based Keurig machines we’re so familiar with down here on Earth, and like the Keurig machine, the ISSpresso produces waste with each brew. That could create a lot of trash in a short amount of time, and getting things on and off the ISS is an expensive process. "We'll see how it goes," Kloeris says. "If it's successful, then we'll have to figure out how we're going to resupply it."

But why go to all this trouble for a cup of coffee? NASA hopes the ISSpresso machine will do more than caffeinate astronauts. It will provide a place for socializing and exchanging ideas, a sort of in-orbit corner cafe. Relaxation is “an aspect that should not be ignored in missions that keep the astronauts away from home for many months in a very challenging environment,” Lavazza says.

“Food provides an important psychological support,” says David Avino, Managing Director of Argotec. “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.”

The ISSpresso machine arrived at the space station with a first batch of just 20 to 30 coffee capsules, so Cristoforetti might want to pace herself.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NASA/JPL, YouTube
arrow
Space
Watch NASA Test Its New Supersonic Parachute at 1300 Miles Per Hour
NASA/JPL, YouTube
NASA/JPL, YouTube

NASA’s latest Mars rover is headed for the Red Planet in 2020, and the space agency is working hard to make sure its $2.1 billion project will land safely. When the Mars 2020 rover enters the Martian atmosphere, it’ll be assisted by a brand-new, advanced parachute system that’s a joy to watch in action, as a new video of its first test flight shows.

Spotted by Gizmodo, the video was taken in early October at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Narrated by the technical lead from the test flight, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ian Clark, the two-and-a-half-minute video shows the 30-mile-high launch of a rocket carrying the new, supersonic parachute.

The 100-pound, Kevlar-based parachute unfurls at almost 100 miles an hour, and when it is entirely deployed, it’s moving at almost 1300 miles an hour—1.8 times the speed of sound. To be able to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the parachute generates almost 35,000 pounds of drag force.

For those of us watching at home, the video is just eye candy. But NASA researchers use it to monitor how the fabric moves, how the parachute unfurls and inflates, and how uniform the motion is, checking to see that everything is in order. The test flight ends with the payload crashing into the ocean, but it won’t be the last time the parachute takes flight in the coming months. More test flights are scheduled to ensure that everything is ready for liftoff in 2020.

[h/t Gizmodo]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
NASA/JPL-Caltech
arrow
Space
Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor Gets Its Closeup—And a Name
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid.

'Oumuamua moved too quickly through space to orbit the Sun, which led researchers to believe that it might be the remains of a former exoplanet. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our solar system. Far-flung origins aside, new observations have led some researchers to conclude that 'Oumuamua is, well, pretty ordinary—at least in appearance.

'Oumuamua's size (591 feet by 98 feet) and oblong shape have drawn comparisons to a chunky cigar that's half a city block long. It's also reddish in color, and looks and acts like asteroids in our own solar system, the BBC reports. Its average looks aside, 'Oumuamua remains important because it may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form.

University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios