Payloads and Tech Unit

Argotec designs and develops several payloads for the International Space Station, realizing innovative technologies that are also directly applicable on Earth.

Payloads and Tech Unit (PTU)

Argotec carries on research and development in many aerospace industry areas. In addition, the company is one of the major players in various projects relating to the design and the development of thermal and fluid dynamics systems for the International Space Station. These devices do not have space as the only target, but they are also designed with the purpose of implementing innovations and new technologies that are directly applicable on Earth. It is along these guidelines that ISSpresso, some particularly efficient thermal systems (ARTE & HEAT) for the passive heat transfer, as well as many other payloads and systems for space have been built.

ISSpresso is the first capsule-based espresso system able to work in the extreme conditions of space. Argotec and Lavazza worked together with the Italian Space Agency (ASI), in a public-private partnership, to bring the authentic Italian espresso into the International Space Station (ISS).

May 3rd, 2015
First espresso in Space
Months to make it
400 bar
Pressure threshold
Main models of the machine

On April 14, 2015, the flight model of ISSpresso was sent with SpaceX CRS-6 to the ISS. The first espresso coffee was drank in space by the ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on May 3, 2015. (Press Release Italian VersionPress Release English Version)

After two years onboard the International Space Station, ISSpresso still allows astronauts to enjoy flavourful and scientific breaks in space. On September 30, 2017  the Italian  astronaut Paolo Nespoli succesfully tested the capsule-based espresso machine  onboard the ISS to celebrate International Coffee Day. (Press Release Italian Version, Press Release English Version)

show ISSspresso animation

ISSpresso is designed to prepare not only espresso, but also other hot beverages. Prior to this experiment only soluble coffee was available in space. The astronauts select their drink of interest between the following options: short coffee (30 ml), weak coffee (60 ml), hot drink (tea or broth, 120 ml). It is also provided a flush cycle (60 ml) to clean the hydraulic circuit at the end of supply. The possibility delivering broth allows for the rehydration of space food.


Credits by Lavazza

ISSpresso also offers the opportunity to study some physical phenomena related to the fluid dynamics in microgravity of liquids at high pressure and temperature.

ISSpresso is heavier and more complex (nearly 25kg) because of the materials choice and the introduced redundancies to meet the safety requirements. The ducts of the hydraulic circuit are made from steel to support the operational loads up to 400 bar. The brewer has been redesigned to minimize the amount of water remaining after the infusion. Furthermore, it hosts a set of microswitches that prevent the leakage of hot water under (high) pressure in case of unsuccessful or improper closure of the brewer itself.

The model Protoflight, i.e. flight, is the final version that incorporates all the best technical solutions implemented in the previous models. It has been certified by NASA for use aboard the International Space Station.

In 2011 Argotec started research and engineering activities in the field of 2-phase heat exchange technology. The ongoing research includes design of the heat pipe as well as the identification of the working fluid. Concerning the design, a numerical model has been built in order to optimize the internal heat pipe geometry. The filling process and the closure systems are proprietary and performed in Argotec laboratories. Simulations and tests are used to validate the design.

The tests performed on ground make it possible to validate the numerical model of the terrestrial functionality. Space research furthers knowledge on the passive thermal device systems. Enormous effort is given throughout the investigation to find terrestrial applications, with Argotec being the prime contractor for numerous collaborative works.

In the last several years, Argotec had realized many projects in the thermal area, some of these are:

Argotec will be a member of the Organizing Committee at the 19th International Heat Pipe Conference. In this context Argotec organises the Space Challenge: “Two-Phase Heat Transfer for Cubesats”.

For further information about the contest, visit this page.

In 2014 Argotec started the design of a technological demonstrator to enhance the test campaign and further the knowledge of the heat pipe performance in microgravity. The International Space Station (ISS) was selected once again as the test bench.

April 5 th, 2016
ARTE was installed inside the MSG
Months to make it
Heat pipes
Low toxicity working fluids

Why should microgravity behavior be so important in dealing with heat pipes? The Space Station uses heat pipes, but they are installed on the external part of the ISS. This is because they contain anhydrous ammonia, that would create a hazardous scenario in case of leakage. That kind of hazard is considered to be catastrophic, causing injury, and potentially loss of life, to the crew and the loss of a module, at least.

The Argotec team has submitted the required documentation to the NASA Safety Panel and faced safety reviews during the project phases, from the design, to the development and the delivery of the payload. On April 4, 2016 the American astronaut Timothy Kopra succesfully conducted the experiment onboard the ISS (Press Release Italian Version, Press Release English Version).

Thermal Exchange was used again by the Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli during his VITA mission. Even on September 14, 2017, Argotec engineers have provided real-time support for the operations from the companies Mission Control Centre in Turin, that is connected with the NASA control center (Press Release Italian Version, Press Release English Version).

The Heat Exchanging pAssive Technology (HEAT) project is focused on the development and the ground demonstration of two passive Thermal Control System (TCS) breadboards. The first prototype is thought to be integrated in manned space vehicles, while the other one is designed as an anti-icing device integrated into a traditional wing leading edge on a commercial airplane. Both prototypes are tested in the Argotec Labs reproducing a similar operational environment.

Months to make it
Space, Aeronautical, Terrestrial

HEAT is a collaborative project between Argotec, the principal investigator, and the partners Finmeccanica, Ditta Giovanni Grasso, Politecnico di Torino and Università di Torino.

The goal is to enhance the study of the passive heat transfer technologies, designing and manufacturing some devices, the Heat Pipes (HP), which use the high efficiency of the two phase heat transfer. In particular, the study is focused on the development of two passive thermal systems that are intended for the use in aeronautical and space applications.

Both prototypes was built in the Argotec laboratories and was subjected to an intensive series of tests in order to evaluate its performance as well as its operating limits.

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