Science! By Jan. 28, 2015 11:31 am
3D printed cup lets astronauts sip coffee in space | Science! |

If we’re going to make our space colonization dreams a reality, there are still some big hurdles to clear. How are we going to protect ourselves from deadly radiation? How are we going to adapt to the years-long travel? But most importantly, how are going to sip coffee when there’s no gravity? Fortunately, brilliant minds have been toiling day and night to solve that last elusive question, and with this new 3D printed coffee cup, caffeine addicts of Earth can rest easy knowing there’s finally an answer.

Zero gravity environments create a curious dilemma for coffee lovers. While it’s not ideal, drinking most beverages out of a bag is a good compromise to prevent free floating fluids from messing up delicate instruments. But the act itself of sipping hot coffee, smelling and tasting it, is more important than just whether or not it gets into your body. So how do you replicate that experience in space?

3D printed cup lets astronauts sip coffee in space | Science! |

To find a solution, Portland State University researchers spent a year studying how liquid behaves in low gravity to create a mug that could funnel coffee directly into an astronaut’s mouth. The design they came up with, building off of the cup astronaut Don Pettit designed for the International Space Station in 2008, is an odd, angular shoe with a pointed center and a little lip guard. Working in tandem, these pieces guide coffee drops towards the mouth through surface tension and capillary connections whenever lips touch the cup. This extensive breakdown of the project on Wired compares it to a wick.

Since the cup is 3D printed in transparent plastic, it can be replicated on stations like the ISS, which already has a 3D printer and recently received an Italian espresso machine. However, the team is still testing the final prototypes, and the current cost of each cup is around $500. They’re reusable, but that is still pretty pricey. That said, the cups could have added benefits that the researchers hope might make them worth it in the long run. The lightweight design could save precious weight and volume. Meanwhile, the relatively inexpensive insight gained from testing and observing how fluids react in the cup could also be applied to other kinds of fluid used in space flight like, say, rocket fuel.

So while coffee is very important, just look at all the advanced coffee technology we’ve already developed, when it comes to space travel you have to think a little bigger. Fortunately, this coffee cup might be a frothy, delicious, caffeine-filled stepping stone to even better discoveries. But even if it isn’t, let’s not forget being able to drink coffee in space is still a pretty huge deal.

Now read: Coffee tech attempts to save society by embarrassing introverts

3D printed cup lets astronauts sip coffee in space | Science! |


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