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

by Ian O'Neill on October 16, 2008

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

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

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

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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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog:, be sure to check it out!

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