The secret design will allow astronauts to enjoy the rich taste and aroma of fresh coffee in space (Telegraph)

The Zero-Gravity Coffee Maker: Space Station Luxury or Necessity?

16 Oct , 2008

by

Costa Rican engineering students invent a coffee percolator for use in orbit

[/caption]Imagine: You’ve just woken up on board the space station half-way through your six-month mission in zero-gravity. You probably feel a little home sick and you crave a drink that will pick up your mood, preparing you for a tough day of overseeing experiments in Kibo and keeping up with your station schedule for the day. You go to the galley for some coffee. Instant, bad tasting coffee at that. You put the instant coffee container into the microwave and heat up the sour, plastic-tasting brew. Did that make you feel any better? Or did it just make you crave the smell of real, freshly ground coffee beans you’re used to on Earth?

Franklin Chang-Diaz, a veteran NASA astronaut who spent a lot of time on the International Space Station (ISS), knows all too well the taste of really bad microwaved space coffee. So, in an effort to make life a little better for the current astronauts in orbit, Chang has asked two engineering students to design a machine that can percolate fresh-ground coffee in zero gravity…

It may seem like a trivial problem. After all, astronauts on board the ISS are bound to suffer some inconveniences whilst working on space; they are strong, intelligent individuals who understand the sacrifices they need to make to belong to this exclusive group of space pioneers. However, as we spend more time in space, there is an increasing desire for the creature comforts of home, especially if you have to spend six months on board a cramped and (soon-to-be) crowded orbital outpost.

In an effort to confront a personal grievance with his experiences in space, Franklin Chang-Diaz, a seasoned NASA astronaut who has flown on seven Shuttle missions and helped to build the ISS, has approached two students at the Technological Institute of Costa Rica to design and build a coffee machine. But this isn’t any ordinary coffee machine, it is a coffee percolator that works in zero g, dispensing with the need for instant microwaved coffee.

View the Telegraph news report on the “Coffee Infuser” »

So, Daniel Rozen and Josue Solano came up with a solution. The biggest problems faced when wanting to percolate hot water through ground coffee in space are, a) there’s no gravity to draw the water through the coffee, b) liquids will float in globules and stick to instrumentation, and c) hot globules of water will create vapour and will probably be quite dangerous (after all, the last thing the ISS crew will need are scalding blobs of water flying around!). Enter the secretive “Coffee Infuser.”

The prototype coffee infuser (Telegraph)

The prototype coffee infuser (Telegraph)

We turn on the switch. The machine will heat the water to 90 degrees centigrade, the ideal temperature for a cup of coffee,” Rozen explains. “Once the water reaches that temperature, we direct the water which is found in the heating chamber towards where the container is found, resulting in a delicious cup of coffee.”

In an intense environment where crew well-being is critical to mission success or failure, the idea of a space-age coffee infuser seems like a good idea. However, in space, where mass dictates how much a mission costs, the Costa Rican engineers will have to find a way of either making their prototype a lot smaller or integrate it seamlessly into a new piece of kit. Until a smaller version is available I doubt it will be considered to be a critical appliance for the station… (although it would be nice to wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee when the Sun is rising over the limb of the Earth…)

Source: Telegraph Online


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fixwhatyoubroke
Guest
fixwhatyoubroke
October 16, 2008 2:45 PM

Is that how brits spell necessity?

fixwhatyoubroke
Guest
fixwhatyoubroke
October 16, 2008 2:52 PM

grin

Nathaniel
Guest
Nathaniel
October 16, 2008 3:07 PM

So how does this machine work? That explanation tells me nothing.

Vanamonde
Guest
Vanamonde
October 16, 2008 5:24 PM

It is by caffeine alone,
I set my mind in motion,
It is by the beans of java,
the hand aquire shakes,
The shakes become a sign,
the sign becomes a warning,
It is by caffeine alone,
I set my mind in motion.

This is as necessary as water or oxygen.

Ken Murphy
Guest
October 16, 2008 6:56 PM

If there’s no coffee in space, I don’t want to go.

uncledan
Member
uncledan
October 16, 2008 7:31 PM

For the love of all that’s holy, don’t spend $100 billion on the space station and skimp on the damned coffee! I can’t believe anyone would even think of such a thing! There’s enough pressure (no pun intended) just to stay alive, much less take away one of the little things that keeps a human being sane enough to face the day. Try taking the coffee away from your coworkers for a week and see how far it gets you – or the business!

Chuck Lam
Guest
Chuck Lam
October 17, 2008 6:06 AM

I can’t help but wonder just how many of our tax dollars will ultimately be spent on the full development of this “secret coffee brewer.” Why the mystery? And what is wrong with prebrewed and canned Starbucks? I suspect Starbucks would be more than happy to develop something palatable for ISS consumption.

Nick Sheridan
Guest
Nick Sheridan
October 16, 2008 11:11 PM

Shows how far we have to go in our engineering prowess – things like this absolutely justify the ISS imho. Stop any talk about Mars (or even the Moon) until we can build a practical and sustainable setup in LEO. The only argument for not LEO is if it makes it easier to test out new engineering solutions (which I don’t believe). I reckon we should be concentrating on getting the ISS right – and it’ll probably take another 20 years at least.

Elias Friedman
Guest
Elias Friedman
October 16, 2008 11:42 PM

And here I thought the astronauts all drank Tang in the morning…

Igor - mad scientist
Guest
Igor - mad scientist
October 17, 2008 12:48 AM

I would rather have a nice cup of tea, but well done.

rob b
Guest
rob b
October 17, 2008 2:06 AM

How long before Star bucks opens three stations in the same orbit.

Niki
Guest
Niki
October 17, 2008 3:04 AM

AhAhAHAHAHh i can’t belive!

But the best is italian coffe ‘o’

Aodhhan
Member
Aodhhan
October 17, 2008 5:57 AM

I’m thinking it uses the “French Press” method of brewing coffee.

Using this method, they should be able to bring an automatic unit down to size, if not just allow the astronauts to do it mannually themselves for each cup. Im sort of shocked they don’t already have this method available. Should work just fine in space. The fact it uses a ‘coarse’ grind would be a plus.

neil
Member
neil
October 17, 2008 6:17 AM

a coffee maker and a working toilet go hand in hand. procede with caution

lomitus
Member
lomitus
October 17, 2008 6:20 AM
As I’m sitting here sucking down my second cup of the day, the only thing I can really think of in response to this is “make mine a French Vanilla Cappuccino”. Seriously, I have to agree with the general consensus that this is a very good idea indeed. Astronauts often require critical thinking and fast reflexes just to stay alive up there and in my mind, coffee has always been a part of that. Of course as this article mentions, they do already have “coffee”…the issue is “good” coffee. I mean honestly…can you imaging what our poor pioneering astronauts have had to put up with so far? I have this mental vision of some little silver pouch that… Read more »
Spoodle58
Member
October 17, 2008 7:16 AM

Well done to those two Costa Rican Students.

ANDREW OLIVER SATCHELL
Guest
ANDREW OLIVER SATCHELL
October 17, 2008 3:50 PM

I DRINK LATTE MACCIATO

Eric Near Buffalo
Guest
Eric Near Buffalo
October 17, 2008 9:13 AM

~~rob b Says:
October 17th, 2008 at 2:06 am
How long before Star bucks opens three stations in the same orbit.~~

Pssh…there’ll be two on ISS helping to make up those 3.

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