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Out of this world startup plans to roast coffee in space

From the April 2019 issue.

Space Roasters has designed a shuttle capable of roasting coffee in zero gravity that aims to take off by 2020.

In 2015, Lavazza and the Italian Space Agency successfully brewed the first espresso coffee in space. Now, California-based start-up Space Roasters wants to take it to the next level: producing the first batch of coffee roasted in space.

The company’s space roasting capsule (SRC) is the brainchild of International Space University (ISU) graduates Anders Cavallini and Hatem Alkhafaji. The Space Roasters Chief Technical and Executive Officers, respectively, were inspired to develop the concept during an ISU class where the instructor presented a graph depicting the fall of interest in space among Americans from the 1960s to the present day.

“That was a saddening and shocking revelation for them. They both wanted to create something that would engage people and give them a relatable way to be inspired by space science,” Space Roasters Chief Communications Officer Kelli Sullivan says.

“Both being coffee lovers, they realised that coffee roasting – a seemingly ordinary earth-based activity that’s been done for centuries – and rocket science – a concept that seems very out of reach – would make a good partnership.”

To develop the SRC, Alkhafaji combined his architectural engineering, robotic design, and space architecture knowledge with Cavallini’s background in mechanical engineering and space manufacturing, as well as experience as a roaster and barista.

A nominal design of the capsule envisages it at 500 kilograms and 10 cubic metres, with four pressurised chambers where beans are roasted in a gravity-free setting.

“The one thing we can’t avoid while roasting here on Earth is gravity. In the normal roasting process, beans tumble around, break apart, and make contact with a hot surface, all due to gravity,” Sullivan says.

“If gravity is removed, the beans would essentially float around in a heated oven, giving it evenly distributed heat, therefore, not needing to be roasted over and over, possibly burning the beans.”

In space, heat will be generated through a combination of solar energy, onboard energy storage devices, and heat from re-entry. Trade-off analysis and experimentation will determine the ideal combination.

Space Roasters aims to make its first sub-orbital launch in late 2019 or early 2020. The company is in contact with a number of launch providers to make this a possibility.

“This test will give us enough data to better understand the effect of roasting in zero gravity,” Sullivan says.

“Once we confirm our [launch provider], we’re hoping to do it relatively frequently to yield as many coffee beans as possible.”

Space Roasters is also in contact with growers and traders to determine which beans will be used in the initial launch.

“We are doing our research to make sure the coffee we use is fair-trade coffee and helps the local communities,” Sullivan says. “Our team is also in talks with coffee industry experts, who are willing to share their roasting and sourcing expertise.”

Though the price of the space-roasted coffee from the initial launch won’t be sustainable for everyone, Sullivan says it won’t stay that way.

“The first batch will definitely be more exclusive. After all, this is the first time in history coffee has been roasted in outer space. However, as time goes on, Space Roasters coffee will become affordable for everyone,” Sullivan says.

“We want people to feel like space is something not so out of reach. Even if they can’t afford the initial price per cup, we encourage people to show their support by following our journey on social media.”

Through its orbital mission, Space Roasters’ goal is to make space an accessible concept to the everyday person, and not just the playground of billionaires and large governments.

“Ultimately, space roasting will allow people to experience a product that we know and love, and has been around for centuries, in a new and innovative way,” Sullivan says.

“If we can enhance a product here on Earth using space science, it could influence more than the coffee industry and inspire people elsewhere to think outside the box. Who knows what will be next?”

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