Tuesday 15 May 2018

Vostok has the space beer, now it needs the space beer bottle

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have already enjoyed the first space espresso, but with the heavens poised to open up to tourists, a brew of different sort is likely to be requested. In anticipation of that day, 4 Pines Brewing Company and Saber Astronautics have spent eight years developing a beer suitable for drinking in zero gravity. Now they need a bottle to put it in.

Testing Vostok in zero gravityVostok Space Beer has been in development since 2010Exploded view of a space beer bottle prototype

You would think that sending beer into space would be a simple matter. Beer isn't all that complicated, so it should be a matter of just sticking a six pack of lager on the next Soyuz and figuring out some way to keep it cold.
It turns out, it isn't that easy. For one thing, no one has actually sent alcoholic beverages into space for consumption, so there isn't much in the literature on the effects beer and other alcoholic drinks have on the human body in zero gravity. The other problem is that weightlessness alters human physiology and the brewer must take that into account.

The main problem is that the fluids in the body act in a very odd way in the absence of gravity. On Earth, we have an elaborate system of valves in the venous system and a similar mechanism in the lymph nodes to keep blood and other fluids from pooling in our feet. The trouble is, those valves only work one way, so in zero gravity fluids tend to move up into the head where they swell the tongue, sinus tissues, and other soft cranial tissues.
The result is that the sense of taste is blunted, which is why astronauts are fond of hot sauces and heavily spiced foods. This means that many beers that are quite pleasant on Earth would be bland and tasteless in space.
Another problem is carbonation. The carbon dioxide or nitrogen in beer may give it a refreshing bit of fizz and bite, but the space tippler might find the experience less than pleasant. In the terrestrial pub, downing a pint can end in a satisfying belch as the excess gas goes back up again. In weightlessness, that's not the case. Instead, a "wet burp" is more likely, where both gas and fluid are forced up and out. Worse, where a conventional burp leaves the gas up and the fluid down, a space belch is likely to leave significant gas behind and the drinker very uncomfortable.
Diagram of a prototype
To remedy this, the partner companies developed Vostok Space Beer. This special brew is based on a dry Irish-style stout made with a seven-strong malt line-up that the brewer claims provides a strong flavor with a full body, smooth finish, balanced bitterness, and the aroma of coffee, chocolate and caramel malts. As for the belching, the carbonation is carefully measured to leave a taste on the tongue without a bloat in the belly.
According to the makers, Vostok Space Beer was developed several years ago and has been tested not only with earthbound focus groups, but also in zero gravity aboard a "vomit comet" aircraft flying parabolic arcs, where both taste and the effects of alcohol in weightlessness were assessed. In addition, marketing of an Earthling version started in 2011.
The hard part now is to come up with a bottle to put the brew in. The partners rejected things like squeeze packets and straws, settling for a system that looks like a conventional beer bottle, yet can be drunk out of in zero gravity.
Testing Vostok in zero gravity
Inspired by the Moon, designer Angelina Kwan came up with a dark vessel that evokes the dark side of the Moon as well as spacecraft. Since it's regarded as a keepsake as well as a container, the bottle has a removable cup that can be used when the traveler returns to Earth, and the first batches will be signed and serial numbered.
The upper part of the bottle looks like a conventional bottle silhouette, but it contains some technological tricks. Beer won't pour in space and surface tension would cause it to stick like a big blob in the bottle, so there's a wicking insert (similar to those found in some fuel tanks) to draw the liquid up to the neck for normal drinking. There's also a black anodized aluminum drawn sleeve, an extruded gold anodized aluminum cap, a hygiene seal, and a spring compression lid.
The partners are now working on taking the bottle from prototype to production with an Indiegogo campaign to raise US$1 million by June 6, 2018. The funds will be used to finalize the engineering schematics for bottle product, designing the packaging, working out the beer-filling process, as well as the logistics of bottle production and materials procurement.
An early prototype bottle design
So far, the campaign has raised about US$30,500, but there are a number of perks offered to backers, ranging from a digital "high five" at the five dollar level, to a voucher for one of the first batch of bottles for US$279, to a full-on luxury package complete with zero-G flight for US$40,000.
If all goes to plan, the bottle will be shipped to backers from this December. However, those looking to have them filled with Vostok's space brew will have to make their way to various locations in the UK, US and Australia.
The video below introduces Vostok Space Beer.
Source: Vostok Space Beer

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