JAXA - Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency
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Ground Control to Major Tom,

Commencing countdown,
engines on,
Check ignition,
and may God’s love be with you,
Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five…

That’s right five whiskies are headed to space! The International Space Station to be exact via H-II Transfer Vehicle No. 5, commonly known as “Kounotori5” or HTV5.

Suntory Global Innovation Center is about to embark upon space experiments on the “development of mellowness in alcoholic beverage through the use of a microgravity environment.” This research will be conducted in the International Space Station’s Japanese Experiment Module (nicknamed “Kibo”), with the cooperation of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

H-II Transfer Vehicle No. 5, commonly known as “Kounotori5” or HTV5, is scheduled to be launched from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center on August 16, 2015 carrying alcohol beverages produced by Suntory to the Japanese Experiment Module aboard the International Space Station, where experiments on the “development of mellowness” will be conducted for a period of about one year in Group 1 and for two or more years (undecided) in Group 2.

With the exception of some items like beer, alcoholic beverages are widely known to develop a mellow flavor when aged for a long time. Although researchers have taken a variety of scientific approaches to elucidating the underlying mechanism, they still do not have a full picture of how this occurs.

Suntory scientists have hypothesized that “the formation of high-dimensional molecular structure consisting of water, ethanol, and other ingredients in alcoholic beverages contributes to the development of mellowness,” and have been conducting collaborative researches on this topic with research groups of Professor Shigenao Maruyama of the Institute of Fluid Science, Tohoku University and Professor Mitsuhiro Shibayama of the Institute for Solid State Physics, the University of Tokyo, the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute and Suntory Foundation for Life Sciences. The results of these collaborative researches have suggested the probability that mellowness develops by promoted formation of the high-dimensional molecular structure in the alcoholic beverage in environments where liquid convection is suppressed.

On the basis of these results, the space experiments will be conducted to verify the effect of the convection-free state created by a microgravity environment to the mellowing of alcoholic beverage.

The Suntory Group aims to use these experiments to help find a scientific explanation for the “mechanism that makes alcohol mellow.”

Title of study: Elucidating the Mechanism Mellowing Alcoholic Beverage

Experimental Period

  • Group 1: August 16, 2015 (Sunday) (planned) to September 2016 (planned)
  • Group 2: August 16, 2015 (Sunday) (planned) to undecided date two or more years later

Content of Experiment

One set of samples consisting of various alcoholic beverages will be stored in a convection-free state in Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” on the International Space Station, and another set of the identical samples will be stored in Japan for the same period of time. The following methods will be then used to analyze and compare the two sets of samples.

  1. Measurement of substance diffusion coefficient with the use of a phase shifting interferometer*1 in cooperation with the Institute of Fluid Science, Tohoku University.
  2. Detection of high-dimensional structure by small angle X-ray scattering*2 using SPring-8, in cooperation with the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute and the Institute for Solid State Physics, the University of Tokyo.
  3. Measurement of substance diffusion with the use of the NMR method*3 in cooperation with Suntory Foundation for Life Sciences.

*1 Phase shifting interferometer: Uses the properties of light (visible light) waves to visualize temperature and concentration distributions, etc. that cannot be seen by the eyes, making it possible to detect slight changes in the ingredients of alcoholic beverages and determine how they are distributed.

*2 Small angle X-ray scattering: Can be used to obtain nanoscale (1 millionth of a meter) structure by irradiating a substance with X-rays and observing the scattered X-rays in an angular region of a few degrees or less.

*3 NMR method: Uses the phenomenon of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to extract information from the organic compounds that are the object of measurement. Can be used to obtain information on the molecular structure of a compound and its dynamic properties.


Five types of distilled spirits differing aging periods and 40% ethanol: Total of six samples

Oddly enough, there was no mention at all in their press release about taste. So, my question is “What about the taste?”

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