In SpaceX’s latest mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), the Dragon capsule delivered precious fuel to the astronauts who crave it. Among 4,300 lbs of supplies was Isspresso, a capsule-based brewing system designed to bring hot espresso to the space station, where until last week, astronauts had been getting by with instant coffee.
It was designed by Argotec—an Italian engineering company that specializes in aerospace systems and space food—along with Italian coffee brand Lavazza and the Italian Space Agency. Creating the machine involved several engineering and scientific challenges, since it will be used at the International Space Station in a microgravity environment where everything floats. Brewing espresso requires pressure and high temperatures, and engineers were challenged with making sure the scalding water doesn’t float out of the machine. Additionally, steam can be unpredictable in space, where bubbles of hot air can come together and become dangerously hot.
To avoid potential problems, the Isspresso includes extra sensors, temperature controls, and was designed with steel tubes instead of the rubber tubes that are typically used. As a result, the machine weighs 44 pounds. Furthermore, in addition to the volume the microwave-sized machine takes up, each cup of espresso requires capsules and pouches in order to keep the liquid from floating away.
So maybe the machine is wasteful. After all, despite its savory flavor and ability to both comfort and perk up people on Earth and beyond, espresso is not technically a nutritional requirement. However, Argotec says that designing the machine helped improve our understanding of the principles of fluid dynamics and conditions in microgravity, and some of the solutions have even led to international patents. Most importantly, if it works, espresso could improve the daily lives of astronauts.