Oct 10, 2015 | By Alec

Industrial 3D printers are set to become an integral part of NASA’s mission to Mars, but that doesn’t mean that we home users can’t also 3D print aerospace-related objects. While several 3D printable spacecraft models can easily be found online, a particularly impressive one has just been shared on Instructables. Designed by Instructables’ own Jon-a-Tron, this extremely cool Interplanetary Rocket is not only a particularly realistic scale model, but also offers makers an interesting way to learn more about the practical side of space travel while 3D printing.

In the real world, Jon-a-Tron (or Jonathan) is a designer at the Instructables Design Studio – which he calls the best job ever – and he specializes in architecture, film sets and animatrics, and more. As such, he regularly develops cool and interesting (sometimes even complicated) projects, like this 3D printed ice coffee brewer we reported on a while ago. Unlike that project, this interplanetary rocket doesn’t do anything, but is still very educational. ‘While many of us may think of a rocket as a monolithic object that fires into space in one piece, the reality is that an interplanetary rocket is made of more than a dozen discrete stages that each perform a critical role in getting astronauts into space,’ Jonathan explains, adding that constructing one from 3D printed parts is perfect for getting to grips with their complexity.

Inspiration for this particular model came from NASA’s own Space Launch System or SLS, which was recently hailed as the next generation rocket for propelling space exploration beyond our own orbit, ergo to Mars. ‘It’s designed for versatility- the rocket can be used to move either cargo or crew, and will be a crucial part of the manned mission to Mars,’ Jonathan says. ‘I love the idea of modularity because of its efficiency. The SLS rocket's modularity makes for an interesting scale model, because you could print new parts for different uses and interchange them with the other parts you've already printed.’

As Jonathan explains, this entire and very impressive multi-part model was completely designed in Fusion 30, his software of choice for how easy it is to make precise models and keep track of any changes made. ‘Unlike a lot of other programs I've used, I've never had any issues with the geometry translating to a solid printable model. It's also worth mentioning that Fusion is FREE FOR LIFE with a "startup license",’ he says. And to make the model as realistic as possible, he separated a number of different parts that fit together into portions similar to an actual rocket. These are the Engines (4 parts), the Solid Boosters (two), Engines (two), the launch vehicle adaptor, the Cryogenic Stage, another engine, Spacecraft Adaptor, Service Module, yet another engine, the Crew Module, Heat Shield, Forward Bay Cover and Abort Stage.

This means that there are lots of STL files, but all can be downloaded from Jonathan’s Instructable page here. He 3D printed all on his Dremel 3D Idea Builder, which he enjoys for its reliability, consistency and quality. He further used Meshmixer to prep the files for 3D printing, with an eye on things like positioning and support structures. If you have no experience doing do so, keep an eye on his very detailed tutorial filled with tips. ‘I used Resolution: High for all of the prints. I had good results without tweaking any of the other options on this tab,’ he says, adding that he used an Hexagon infill, while increasing the density to 75% on a few molds. 3D printing took place at 230 degrees, as he felt that results are often better at a slightly higher temperature. 3D printing also took place on sheets of scotchblue painter’s tape, with an eye on making production as smooth and quick as possible.

But as there are so many parts, assembly can be a bit complex. Fortunately, most snap together without any glue being necessary. ‘The tolerances that seemed to work best were .05mm for parts that are supposed to be fixed, and .1mm for parts that need to move freely (like the gaps between the modules and the adaptors). The Core Stage is in two parts that are glued together- this makes for a clean surface on both halves of the model,’ he adds. Again, however, it is best to keep a close eye on Jonathan’s tutorial if you’re hesitant during the assembly process.

But rest assured: the result is definitely worth the effort. The final rocket is a marvelous and extremely detailed piece of aerospace future and is excellent for getting to grips with the basics of rocket technology. Jonathan, meanwhile, is already thinking about improving the model by finding some way to smoothly interconnect the various models. ‘The clips could definitely be improved, or there could be a shallow screw connection between the modules,’ he says. We will, at least, definitely see a lot more of his projects in the near future.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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