Payloads and Tech Unit

Experience, skills and technology for space explorers’ comfort

Payloads and Tech Unit

Argotec has prestigious flight heritage with the International Space Station always pointing towards innovation and final Earth applications. Argotec payloads are a mix of technologically advanced and pay particular attention to the needs of Space Explorers and their comfort. Thanks to Argotec’s experience and success, it was awarded by the Italian Space Agency, the role of overseeing all the Italian payloads going to the ISS. The company has a proven and wide experience in thermal control systems, for both Space and Earth applications.

Argotec is the prime contractor for UTISS – Utilization ISS contract with the Italian Space Agency (ASI). With this contract, Argotec provides support to the Italian Space Agency for all the Italian scientific and technological payloads going to the ISS. Liaison support is provided to NASA at the JSC ASI office and Argotec participates in NASA boards and working groups, to support ASI in the management of the ISS resource utilization.

Argotec worked on the six ASI experiments that were officially part of the ESA Beyond mission of Luca Parmitano that started on 20th of July 2019 and ended on the 6th of February 2020. All the Italian scientific research and technologies that were represented on board the ISS were supported: Acoustic Diagnostics, Amyloid Aggregation, NutrISS, XenoGRISS, Light Ions Detector for ALTEA (LIDAL) and Mini-EUSO.

Some example of services provided under the UTISS contract:
– Requirements definition and validation
– Support to the development of new payloads
– Integration and certification
– Safety processes
– Quality
– Procedures and training
– Familiarization and BDCs
– Logistics
– Payload Operations
– Dissemination of the results to PIs
– Outreach
– Utilization database


Argotec provides astronaut and ground support personnel training and prepares the operations products needed to conduct experiments on-orbit. Argotec’s Mission Control Centre (MCC) includes hardware and software to directly connect with NASA Deep Space Network, NASA and ESA ISS channels. The Argotec MCC acquires video, audio and telemetry as well as NASA JSC planning and real time operations activities. The Argotec team is able to give real time support to astronauts’ operations on board the ISS and remotely receive satellite data.


For the development of payloads, Argotec’s facilities are there to provide support including for testing and assembly.
Argotec offers:

  • A Clean Room that guarantees cleanliness standard according to ISO 5 level (class 100) enabling elements with high needs for environmental control such as for optical instruments and mission electronics. The room is a suitable space for integration activities of flight materials for the aerospace field (e.g. small satellites or payloads for space exploration). It allows also the implementation of storing, integration and test processes according to the company Quality Assurance process, the project Product Assurance Plan and in general to the existing legislation in aerospace field EX9100 and ECSS.
  • A Thermal Vacuum chamber, inside the Clean Room, able to do thermal tests (e.g. thermal balance or thermal cycles) according to space European standards (ECSS). This device allows reproduction of high vacuum conditions and low temperatures typical of the space environment.


Developing technologies for space means creating products suitable to conditions completely different from those of the Earth. This gives companies a twofold advantage: on the one hand an innovative technological development of the company’s products, on the other hand access to new emerging markets, all aimed at a return to Earth and the acquisition of a competitive advantage over competitors.

Through cross-industry collaborations, Argotec offers an innovative service which gives companies direct access to the space market.

The Space Economy represents a driving trend of today’s economy. Investing in space brings a return in scientific and industrial terms in the order of 7 times for every euro spent. Today, the space context welcomes a great variety of companies coming from different industrial sectors, giving the opportunity to expand their business towards new markets.

Developing a product suitable to work in completely different conditions from those on the Earth leads to do research and innovation. It will have significant repercussions on the company business, such as product improvement and access to new markets.

Argotec Sharing Space Economy (ASSE)

The ASSE service, presented during the Open SPACE event at Borsa Italiana in November 2019, consists in a quick and complete feasibility study to identify and evaluate, together with the partner company, ideas, products, technologies to fly in space.

The study follows a structured process involving six different steps, divided in two macro-phases: the Argotec team first works closely with the partner company and then carries out an internal evaluation for the feasibility of the potential projects.

  • The first stage of the process is the Co-Location phase, which is focused on a brainstorming between Argotec and the company at the company premises to exchange information, understand needs, propose ideas, identify solutions and business potential
  • The second stage of the process is the Evaluation phase, during which the results of the Co-Location will be processed by Argotec experts following a technical, programmatic and prospective analysis

All the process will be based on three different evaluation drivers – technical, programmatic and prospective – providing a quantitative feasibility assessment, conducted by a multidisciplinary team of the proposed project, idea, experiment.

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 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).

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