Lavazza ISSpresso
June 17, 2014

Italian Firms Join Forces To Bring Espresso To The International Space Station

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

[ Watch: ISS Science Garage - Espresso In Space ]

In a universe where Keurig machines are among the most cherished appliances in existence, and a stop at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts for a hot, caffeinated beverage is a necessity, the hard-working astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) have long been denied access to a decent cup of coffee.

Fortunately, their plight will soon come to an end, as two Italian companies have announced they will be providing the crew of the orbiting laboratory with a specialized espresso machine this November. The device, which is known as the ISSpresso, is a capsule-based system capable of operating in the extreme conditions of outer space.

The ISSpresso is the brainchild of two Turin-based firms – aerospace company Argotec and coffee-roasting retailer Lavazza – and will be making its way to the space station thanks to the Italian Space Agency. In the video below, the developers of the device describe it as “a scientific, engineering and flavoring challenge to offer… astronauts an authentic Italian espresso.”

According to James Vincent of The Independent, the ISSpresso weighs roughly 45 pounds and features several modifications that allow coffee to be brewed in the station’s microgravity environment as it orbits the Earth approximately 250 miles above the planet’s surface.

“The plastic tube that normally delivers water in coffeemakers has been replaced by a steel tube capable of resisting pressures of over 400 bar to ensure that no liquids escape,” Vincent explained, “and the final product is served not in an espresso cup but in a sealed plastic pouch that lets the astronauts suck up their morning shot with a straw.”

The unique consumption method will help keep the astronauts from having to corral their caffeinated beverages around the ISS, he noted. Similarly, the espresso machine uses the capsule system instead of grinding its own beans. This innovation allows it to be used to brew tea and other hot beverages, as well as for rehydrating foods.

“ISSpresso is a perfect example of the way ISA's decision to make ISS national usage rights available to public-private partnership initiatives can result in a valorization of public resources for technological, economic, and social objectives,” said Roberto Battiston, President of the Italian Space Agency. “The ISA will bring ISSpresso aboard the ISS, thanks to bilateral cooperation agreements with the NASA, as it shares with the project partners the objective of improving the quality of life of ISS astronauts.”

“This is an ultra high-tech project which has led to innovative solutions, applicable with immediate returns on Earth as well,” added Argotec Managing Director David Avino. “In addition to the engineering aspect, Argotec is also taking care of the European astronauts’ training and nutrition. 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.”

Of course, the big question when it comes to any cup of coffee is, how will it taste? Gizmodo’s Jamie Condliffe explains that the espresso produced by the ISSpresso machine has a dulled flavor profile, because the person drinking the beverage cannot smell it. In spite of that, however, Condliffe said the coffee still manages to deliver “an intense flavor” that should be a definite improvement on the instant coffee currently used by the astronauts.

The machine will accompany astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who will be the first Italian woman in space, during the nation’s next long-term space mission – dubbed “Futura,” according to the Washington Post. Cristoforetti is a Captain in the Italian Air Force and will serve as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 42 and 43 until May 2015.