Wanted: A “Perfect” Cup of Coffee for Space

April 25th, 2013

Rice University students, from left, Robert Johnson, Benjamin Young and Colin Shaw show their coffee condiment system for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Take notice Starbucks!

Rice University students have been working with NASA to provide orbiting astronauts the perfect cup of coffee.

The issue onboard the International Space Station is that crew members have four set ratios of coffee, creamer and sugar – coffee black, coffee with a lot of sugar, coffee with a lot of creamer and coffee with a lot of both. It’s all premixed.

Tackling the condiment system for the ISS, engineering students at Rice in Houston, Texas have come up with a solution they believe will please the astronauts.

At present, the freeze-dried blends of coffee are in aluminum pouches. Astronauts rehydrate their “on the go Cup of Joe” with 70-degree Celsius water from a dispenser on the ISS. Then they drink it through a leak-proof straw that keeps stray drops from floating around the station – free-floating drips that could do serious damage.

Four-part system

Working with NASA astronauts and advice from a Johnson Space Center’s Space Food Systems Laboratory expert, the students — Robert Johnson, Colin Shaw and Benjamin Young – came up with a four-part system that works with existing black coffee pouches.

They used two-ply, heat-sealed pouches supplied by NASA for the sugar and creamer and a roller system to squeeze just the right amount through an adapter to the coffee pouch without leaking. Gauges applied to the pouches allow for accurate dispensing.

The students’ design was inspired by similar devices that squeeze the last drop of toothpaste out of a tube.

While hungry for the opportunity to test their invention themselves aboard the ISS, the students would be happy with a thumbs-up from the astronauts.

The students chose the project offered through the Texas Space Grant Consortium as part of their Introduction to Engineering Design class in the fall and continued to perfect their product this spring.

Watch a video demonstration by the “Houston We Have Coffee” team at:

By Leonard David via Rice University’s Mike Williams

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