May 4, 2015 | By Lilian

Astronauts can finally enjoy a cup of espresso aboard the ISS. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, wearing her Starfleet uniform, became the first person in history to drink authentic Italian espresso coffee in orbit on Sunday, May 3 using the ISSpresso, the world's first zero-gravity and certified Italian coffee maker.

While making espresso here on earth is a relatively simple affair, it requires a special machine to do it in a zero gravity situation. Develped by Italy companies Lavazza and Argotec in partnership with the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the ISSpresso is one of the nine experiments selected by the Italian Space Agency for Samantha Cristoforetti's Futura Mission.

The ISSpresso machine, which uses the same Lavazza coffee capsules as those found on earth, has been designed and built to deliver the same quality as an authentic Italian espresso coffee in terms of cream, body, aroma and temperature. Launched with other cargo and supplies on a SpaceX Dragon capsule last month, the ISSpresso machine works with pouches of water, that are aspirated, pressurized and heated to the optimal espresso temperature. These are then pumped through a capsule of coffee grounds into another pouch.

"Making coffee in space isn't easy," Argotec officials said. "This is the first capsule espresso machine that can work in the extreme conditions in space, where the principles that determine the fluid dynamic characteristics of liquids and mixtures are very different from those typically found on earth."

But there's one other question that continued to baffle scientists and required 3D printing to solve: how do you realize the 'crema', the oily foam on the surface of espresso, that finishes the drink?

Usually, gravity is key in the 'crema' process. The foam consists of a complex and low-density colloid of oils, that rise to surface of your espresso due to gravity. So what do you do in a zero-gravity situation? Fortunately professor Mark Weislogel from Portland State University, who specialized in Thermal and Fluid Sciences, developed a solution.

Using 3D printing technology and mathematics, Weislogel and his colleagues therefore developed a weirdly shaped cup that mimics the 'crema' forming process on earth. The plastic, 3D printed cup uses surface tension and other fluid properties to influence the migration patterns of fluids, even when there isn't any gravity. The rightly shaped container can then passively move fluids from one location to the other. And while this would be very challenging for water-based beverages, espresso is quite an oily drink and therefore easily manipulated using these techniques.

Cristoforetti tasted the first espresso ever brewed in space at 12:44 UTC on Sunday. "Coffee: the finest organic suspension ever devised." Cristoforetti wrote on Twitter, quoting an episode of "Star Trek." "Fresh espresso in the new Zero-G cup! To boldly brew... "



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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