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This Cup Will Bring Real, Gravity-Free Espresso to Space

Smart caffeinated design.

by Federico Nejrotti
Dec 4 2014, 3:35pm

​Image: ​Frank Deckmann/Flickr

Let's face it: American coffee stands no chance compared to an Italian espresso.

Now take Samantha Cristoforetti, the first female and Italian astronaut in history who took off to space on the 23rd of November this year. Everything went pretty smooth: as soon as she was launched and sent to the International Space Station, crowds of people cheered her arrival. But once she got there she had to face a cruel reality: there is no coffee, in space. And, in the unfortunate case of coffee actually existing in outer space, it would be an awful American coffee.

Therefore, who wouldn't try to find a way to drink a proper espresso even on the ISS? And, most importantly, if espresso already exists on the ISS, why hasn't anyone come up with the idea of bringing a coffee cup to sip it properly?

Spoiler: it has nothing to do with the need to save suitcase space.

In a meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics that occured from the 23rd to the 25th of November in San Francisco, high school student Nathan Ott, in collaboration with professor Mark Weislogel and researcher Drew Wollman, has described the study and the experiments behind the capillary action and the dynamics that allow the consumption of espresso in an environment that lacks gravity.

What has the absence of gravity got to do with this? The thing is that, at the moment, the true Italian espresso cannot be drunk because of its intrinsic characteristics.

Italian espresso, in fact, distinguishes itself from other types of coffee due to the high presence of complex colloids of emulsifying oil at a low density: with gravity, these oils move upwards to the surface and originate the typical creamy substance of Italian coffee—yes, Italian coffee is different, it's not just a popular myth.

"Since you can obtain numerous types of coffee from espresso, we made some measurements and we created a cup that is able to maintain its surface pressure properties necessary for an Italian espresso, a latte, and an American filter coffee," Weislogel explained. "For a series of aspects, the taste and the smell of the cream are crucial factors that influence the value of Italian coffee."

After an extensive amount of research and a commemorative meeting to expose the outcome of the invention, here is the "espresso space cup," 3D-printable and deriving directly from the magic world of mathematics.

The space espresso cup. Image: Weislogel.

"The cup's shape is able to let the fluids migrate passively in the preferred location without the need of mobile parts—you exploit the passive forces of fluid resistance and the absorption," Weislogel added. "The geometry of the cup is the 'smart' part/aspect, it functions as a control system for the fluids with no need to use pumps or centrifugal forces."

According to the team, the coffee cup works so well that, especially with an oily fluid like an espresso, it should work on the first try in outer space—luckily for Cristoforetti and any Italians who follow in her footsteps.

This article was translated from Motherboard Italia.

International Space Station
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Samantha Cristoforetti
espresso in space