Sipping Espresso in Outer Space

Sipping Espresso in Outer Space

Though it might seem like a trivial perk for astronauts aboard the ISS, the development of an espresso machine that works in microgravity was actually a marvel of science and engineering. Created in collaboration between aerospace engineering firm Argotec and Italian coffee company Lavazza, every detail of the International Space Station's espresso machine was designed to handle the unique demands of fluid dynamics in low gravity. For example, the tubing, which is usually plastic on earthly machines, was swapped out for a sturdy steel that can withstand the immense pressure that's required to superheat water in space. The technology might be novel, but the rest is anything but: astronauts use the same Lavazza espresso capsules you'd find in a terrestrial grocery store, and the brew that results is virtually identical to standard Italian espresso, all the way down to a foamy layer of crema.

09:29

Key Facts In This Video

  • 1

    The machine brews with superheated water. This requires a combination of heat and pressure, following the ideal gas law (PV=NRT). (0:49)

  • 2

    Astronauts use zero-gravity coffee cups, which use surface tension to keep the espresso from floating away. (2:20)

  • 3

    The water used comes from a combination of fresh and recycled sources, including distilled toilet water, sweat, and other waste. (7:02)

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