Testing zero-gravity space beer

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 20th April 2011

The latest in beer technology was flowing – and free falling – at Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) new zero gravity research facility today.Queensland University of Technology researchers have been testing the effect of zero-gravity on the carbonation and palatability of beer in space, using a microgravity “drop tower”, in an attempt to quench the thirst of the burgeoning space tourism industry.

Alongside more serious experiments for NASA and other international research organisations, the beer trials replicate the behaviour of the special brew in space, without having to leave Earth.

The microgravity tower is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere and one of only a few world-wide that is able to simulate the low gravity level present in space, here on Earth.

QUT’s research facility director, Professor Ted Steinberg, a former NASA researcher who continues to undertake studies for the space agency at the new drop tower, said the facility was helping to advance reduced-gravity research by making it affordable and accessible to researchers in many diverse disciplines from fluid dynamics to biology.

Professor Steinberg said researchers, government agencies, and businesses, like private space research company Saber Astronautics Australia and Sydney’s 4-Pines Brewing Company (the companies behind the new space brew) were using the tower as a replacement for, or stepping stone to, sending their experiments into Earth’s outer atmosphere.

The beer experiments, undertaken with the help of the tower’s technical director Dr Martin Castillo, prepared the space beer for the world’s first “space beer taste test” aboard a parabolic trajectory microgravity flight out of Cape Canaveral, Florida in February operated by Zero Gravity Corporation.

During the flight the astronaut drank 6 x 150ml samples of “space beer” which passed the taste and carbonation tests.

Professor Steinberg said experiments at the microgravity drop tower were loaded into a 400kg metal capsule, winched 27m to the top of the tower and then released, allowing the experiment to freefall and experience two seconds of microgravity prior to bringing it to a rest at the bottom of the tower.

“Two seconds may seem like a little time, but it is a lot for studying a very large variety of phenomena in reduced gravity such as combustion of metals, fire safety, certain biological processes and fluid dynamics,” Professor Steinberg said.

“For example, many metals burn more easily in reduced gravity, liquids behave differently, both of which have important implications for safety and the way machinery and equipment operate in spacecraft and space stations. The beer experiments assisted in determining the correct level of carbonation, so that it can in the future be appropriately enjoyed by humans in reduced gravity.”

Professor Steinberg said the microgravity tower was making significant contributions to knowledge in a variety of fields, including the invention of new materials produced without the effects of gravity.

“In microgravity, it is possible to make better materials for use on Earth or in space, such as unique metals, nanomaterials with more surface area and high-strength glass,” he said.