The space coffee cup for your home, office, or next trip to space. Currently in use aboard the International Space Station!
About this project
It sounds simple enough, but designing a cup for space requires a deep understanding of how fluids behave in zero-g. “We’re geeks, and we make spacecraft fluid systems” says Mark Weislogel. “It’s like space plumbing.” Turns out a lot of factors go into making fluids do what you want in space.
The Space Cup uses principles of capillary flow as shown above. Some of these include shape, wetting condition, and surface tension. Basically, the material, fluid, and shape. They all matter. With the cup a sharp interior corner angle draws liquid upward creating a wicking effect.
So what does all that mean? Well, believe it or not, fluids act very weird in space. Surface tension, the stuff that keeps liquids together becomes a significant force and dominates gravity. When surface tension wins you can pump tons of liquid …or coffee by being clever about the shape. Get it? Don’t believe us? It’s true, we promise.
Okay, back to the story…
Like all good stories, ours begins humbly. In 2008 a collaboration between Mark Weislogel and Astronaut Don Pettit prompted a discussion about getting rid of “sippy bags” in space and drinking more like on earth. Mark proposed a geometry and Don being a “get things done” kind of guy built and demonstrated it in space. As you can see in the video, Coffee Cup 1.0 worked like a charm…
Okay, so you’re probably saying that’s pretty cool, but what are the benefits? Well, where do we start…
First, the cup is actually a fully manifested space flight experiment investigating how complex fluids behave. Real science is coming out of this that benefits space systems and ground systems (think microfluidics).
For the space cup specifically. We can save a lot of volume, weight, and waste by not using a bunch of bags. Instead astronauts can use a reusable device that continues to work. It also makes being in space a bit more familiar and home-like.
The design actually comes from a long history of investigating fluid behavior in space. There are also some pretty gnarly equations that come about too. If you’re an uber nerd, or maybe a spacecraft developer, you can check out a publication (one of many) on capillary fluidics.
If you’re not into that stuff (shocking), just know that there’s real math, fluid mechanics, science, engineering, design, sweat and tears that went into solving some of these space problems.
The cost of printing a single cup is pretty high and what would be cool is functional glass cups. Of course this will require some tooling, glass blowing, and a bit of manufacturing all around.This is where we need your support! We want to share this design and experience with everyone around the world (and some out of this world).
We need your support to,
- Produce molds and tooling for glass cups
- 3D print all the mini-keychains (design done)
- Produce packaging including informational booklet
With this project supported we’ll also have resources to invest in more like-minded living-and-working in space demonstrations. We’ll let you know what we mean soon…
So what about our progress so far? Well, we have 3D printed cups on earth and in space. We’ve also prototyped some handmade versions out of glass that look amazing, but we can’t scale that yet. To produce in appreciable volume with consistency we need to invest in tooling so we can make this a reality. This is where you come in. Your backing shows us that you want this to happen and gives us the momentum to launch this project (no pun intended).
We’ve come up with an assortment of fun rewards. Photos and videos! [Coming Soon]
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Risks and challenges
With any manufacturing process comes certain levels of risk including delays and quality assurance. Our team has sourced partners that will assist in assuring high-quality manufacturing.
If you receive a cup with an issue, let us know within 7 days, and we’ll send a replacement. We want everyone to be satisfied and have fun with the project!