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Space station espresso engine a gigantic jump for mankind

FRANCE: Maybe one of the last difficulty to the human take-over of space has been detached – a space-rated espresso machine has now been delivered to the International Space Station (ISS).

The device was made by two Turin-based companies, Lavazza Coffee and engineering firm Argotec. It is called the IS presso and was delivered by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on Monday when her Soyuz docked at the orbiting habitat.

Making coffee in space is difficult, especially espresso, which relies on water at 94 degrees Celsius passing through ground coffee under high pressure.

On earth, this is achieved with the help of gravity, with the water heated and shot onto ground coffee to drip into the cup. In space there is no up or down, so things don’t naturally fall.

Water – and the scalding coffee – would simply form droplets and float away, presenting a hazard both to the astronauts and to the sensitive electronics on board. So the ISSpresso takes water from a pouch and pumps it around the machine.

The water is heated and placed under pressure then fired through a capsule of ground coffee. To guard against accidents, the piping in the ISSpresso can withstand high pressures. The machine itself weighs 20kg, which is the same as all the science instruments on the Philae comet lander put together.

The resulting drink is pumped into another plastic pouch and drunk through a straw.

Not the pinnacle of chic usually associated with an espresso cup, but Giuseppe Lavazza, vice-president of the coffee company, says that the taste itself will be indistinguishable from that bought in earthbound coffee shops.

Argotec has been working on the design since 2012, when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano complained after a week in orbit that the only thing he missed was a good Italian espresso.

Those hoping for cappuccino on the ISS, however, still have to wait. The process relies on frothing milk using steam, then separating the resulting foam from the milk. In zero gravity, the milk and the foam would be almost inseparable unless you placed the device in a centrifuge. But then, how do you get the milk foam to float on the coffee?

US space agency Nasa has designed its own version of an espresso machine but instead of making coffee it is going to look for life on Mars. The Mars Organic Analyser would grind samples of rock and then pass hot, high pressure water over them to extract any organic molecules.