Right after nearly 20 years, the Space Train station is getting a printer upgrade

After nearly 20 years, the Space Station is getting a printer upgrade

Somewhere, 254 miles above all of us, an astronaut is probably printing some thing.

Ever since the International Area Station (ISS) welcomed its initial residents in November of 2000, there have been printers on board.

Astronauts use them to print out critical objective information, emergency evacuation procedures plus, sometimes, photos from home. According to NASA, they print roughly 1, 000 pages a month on two ink jet printers; one is installed on the U. S i9000. side of the ISS, the other within the Russian segment.

ISS occupants do all this on 20-year-old technologies.

“When the printer has been new, it was like 2000-era technology and we had 2000-era laptop computers. Almost everything worked pretty good, ” recalled NASA Astronaut Don Pettit, who introduced the first printer up to the ISS. Yet “the printer’s been problematic the past five or six years, inch said Pettit who’s spent an overall total of one year on the station.

It doesn’t look like a room printer, but the HP ENVY Zero-Gravity Printer is ready for its initial trip to the International Space Place.

“It’s a museum piece,” said Stephen Hunter,  Manager of International Space Station (ISS) Computer Resources, referring to the Epson 800 Inkjet printer in use not just on the ISS, but on the now-retired space shuttles before it.  

It’s not that the Space Place has been orbiting with the same inkjet printer since Justin Timberlake was nevertheless N’Sync. NASA had dozens of this particular printer and, as one failed, they’d send up another identical design.

But now it’s time for some thing truly new. In 2018, NASA will send two brand new, specialized ink jet printers up to the station. However , figuring out the best kind of printer to send was a much more complicated than you’d probably expect.

A tech dinosaur

Hunter, that has been in the process of updating the ISS’s office technology for the last two years stated that the ISS printers have would have to be replaced for a long time. However , he can’t drive over to Best Buy, purchase a new printer and launch this into space.  

Two in years past, Hunter started working with HP with an ISS IT overhaul, getting brand new Gen 2 Z-Book laptops for that crew, so it was only organic they would turn to them again for that printer project.

“We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do this, ” mentioned Enrique Lores, President of HP’s Imaging, Printing and Solutions company. “It was an incredible technical problem. “

While the ISS is much like an office in space, HP didn’t want to just suggest that NASA launch any kind of ordinary laser printer to umlaufbahn. Its friable toner dust plus significant power consumption would set a poor fit for life in micro-gravity.

“NASA had a very unique set of requirements that we had to meet,” said Ronald Stephens Research and Development Manager for HP’s Specialized Printing Systems Division.

NASA wanted a printer that could:

“They [HP] had to answer this question: What are the changes I need to make to make sure [the printer] functions properly and safely,” Hunter said.

There are, you might say, mission-critical reasons for these requirements.

On the power front side, for example , the ISS generates all of its own electricity through solar panels. This means they must tightly manage power usage. Any new device they cause board must power efficient. 1 bit of good news: HP doesn’t need to change the power configuration on the inkjet printer. The ISS can supply a typical 110 AV outlet.

‘NASA had a very unique set of specifications that we had to meet. ‘

On the ink waste front, Seeker explained that typical inkjet ink jet printers do deposit some extra ink throughout the printing process. With gravity in position, the ink typically stays within the printer or even on the printed linen. In zero gravity, it floats out. Hunter said astronauts can ingest the ink or it might contaminate the crew’s numerous on-board experiments.

In addition, ink jet printers rely on gravity for paper administration. Whatever HP provided would have to keep the paper, so it didn’t quickly pull in the printer or float aside when the printer’s done with it. (Pettit also explained that astronauts crystal clear paper jams in space just like they do on the ground, “We open all of the little doors and see crinkled bit of paper. “)

To work out the particular kinks of the new ISS inkjet printer, HP worked with a small team through NASA that included Pettit plus three other astronauts.

For Stephens, talking with the astronauts regarding their lives on the ISS was obviously a real eye-opener.  

“The biggest ‘aha’ for me was how much life on the space station is like life here,” mentioned Stephens. Astronauts, he said, awaken, go to work, and receive or even create documents that they need to print. They “go home” and print out pictures using their families and put them on their wall space.

“[They’re] just people doing a job and living at home, which just happens to be in space,” he said.

Astronauts’ concerns about printing within space are much the same as they are on a lawn. “You want it to be uneventful… you would like to hit print and have hard duplicate, ” said Pettit who furthermore told me that, with the advent of pills and laptops, astronauts don’t print out now as much as they used to.

One thing that is different from publishing at home on the ground is how long the particular ink lasts. Pettit remembers that will, at least on the old printers, this didn’t last as long. That is, he or she said because of the zero gravity, which usually prevents every last bit of printer ink from leaving the cartridge.

Space printer

Instead of building the specialized printer from scratch. HP suggested the HP Envy 5600. It’s a standard, all-in-one (printer, scanner, photo copier, fax) device you can buy at store for $129. 99. But the ink jet printers heading up to the ISS early the coming year underwent significant modification.

“We removed the capability to do scanning, fax and copy out of it to reduce weight and remove glass portions,” said NASA’s Hunter.

Removing what could weigh the inkjet printer down or break and become an area disaster was only the start. HORSEPOWER had to build new paper dealing with mechanisms.

The most difficult part was related to zero the law of gravity. “What aspect of a mechanical system like a printer utilize gravity as its own regular process?” said HP’s Stephens.

Ultimately, HP went through every inkjet printer system and component to analyze exactly how it would be affected by zero gravity.

The HP ENVY Zero-Gravity Printer still uses standard inkjet ink

The HORSEPOWER ENVY Zero-Gravity Printer still utilizes standard inkjet ink

3D printing some parts like the paper tray helped speed development.

3D printing some parts such as the paper tray helped speed growth.

The printer buggy, for instance, hangs on a rod plus gravity pulls it down into placement. HP had to replace that gravitational bias with a mechanical one.

HP turned to 3D printing and also fast-tracked some new, experimental THREE DIMENSIONAL material � 3D-printed nylon filled up with glass beads � that the firm had been working on for the modified room printer.

The unique attributes of this material allowed HP in order to swap out, for instance, the several parts that make up the printer result tray and turn it into one that’s both lighter, flexible and, eventually, more reliable.

If the 3D printed part breaks, Lores told me, HP can print out an alternative and send it to the ISS on the next uncrewed SpaceX Monster cargo ship.

HP plus NASA also removed the scanning device cover, added numerous fasteners, changed the shell with fire-retardant plastic material and added a significant amount of ingesting material in the print well in order to catch any wasted ink.

It’s still a printer

Despite all those modifications, the finished HORSEPOWER space printer still looks like the printer. It’s 20 inches broad, 16 inches deep and 5 inches high. There’s no cover or glass, but , aside from the THREE DIMENSIONAL printed materials, the ISS’s following printer looks pretty unremarkable.

Up to this point, all of NASA plus HP’s work was theoretical. These people did all they could to make the HORSEPOWER Envy Zero Gravity Printer space-ready. However , the only way to know if this inkjet printer is suitable for use on the space place before actually sending it in order to space, is by testing this in zero gravity and the just way to do that is on a parabolic flight.

Over the particular course of three days and a number of or so flights, NASA and HORSEPOWER tested the retrofitted HP Jealousy on that kind of flight. Because the modified plane loops up and down, travellers achieve, at the peak of the contour, about 20-second periods of near-weightlessness. During those times, for a complete of about 10 minutes, NASA as well as the HP team tested printing which the paper flowed through the inkjet printer and ejected in the right way.

“It went flawlessly. Everything works to our expectation,” said Hunter.

Lores views this project as an affirmation associated with his business. “The space train station is the most advanced office and house in the world (or space). The fact that astronauts have to print gives us a few insight that printing is still related and people on Earth still need it. “

NASA plans to send the first 2 printers up to the station on a SpaceX resupply mission scheduled for Feb 2018.  

“We want to use this through the remainder of the ISS program. Officially through 2024, with plans through 2028,” said Seeker.

NASA and HP have got retrofitted roughly 50 HP Jealousy printers and expects each one to final roughly two years.  

“This will be the last printer they get in the space station,” mentioned Stephens.

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