This afternoon, SpaceX is launching its Dragon V2 spacecraft to deliver 4,300 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. Among the scientific experiments and testing tools is one very large, very odd item: an Italian espresso maker, adorably dubbed “ISSpresso.”
It might seem odd to send something so purely for pleasure — nobody is planning to do experiments on the effects of milk-foam designs in zero gravity any time soon — but launching things into space to lift astronauts’ spirits is actually pretty common. This is especially true on the ISS, where residents might be away from their loved ones on Earth from anywhere from six months up to a year, in the case of NASA astronaut and identical twin Scott Kelley. And though this machine is launching specifically for Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, the project has been in the works since 2013, as numerous Italian astronauts have lamented the lack of good coffee aboard the space station.
Of course, the espresso machine isn’t your ordinary Starbucks model. Created by Argotec, a company that prepares food for in-space consumption, in collaboration with espresso company Lavazza and the Italian Space Agency, the machine is specially designed to work with the gravity, fluid dynamics, and other extreme conditions of space.
For example, take the tube that forces the hot, pressurized water into the espresso grounds. On a standard espresso maker, that tube is made of plastic. On the ISSpresso, it’s made of a specialized steel that can withstand pressures of more than 400 bar, or about 5,800 pounds per square inch. And rather than using ground espresso, which can get loose and fly into critical station components, the machine uses an innovative espresso-capsule system. Every critical component comes with a backup, which brings the whole machine to weigh about 20 kg, or 44 pounds (granted, there are high-end espresso makers on Earth that weight upwards of 70 pounds, but nobody’s putting those in small spaces like that of the ISS).
Home to this feat of gourmet engineering will be the ISS’s “corner café,” a hub where astronauts from all over the globe can gather to kick back and socialize. And the machine won’t just do espresso: according to Argotec, it can also make tea, infusions, broth, and caffè lungo (as close as American astronauts will get to the drip coffee with which they’re familiar).
Just add a panini press and and a brick oven, and we’ll have a European vacation destination in space.
Featured image from Argotec.