Mar 16, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) have made a 3D printed model of Psyche, an asteroid roughly the size of Massachusetts. NASA will send a spacecraft to the asteroid in 2023, and SESE has received funding to carry out essential research.

The 10 kg 3D printed model of Psyche

In its scaled-down, 3D printed form, it looks more like a brain than a giant asteroid. But the asteroid 16 Psyche, which measures a whopping 130 miles in diameter, is a hot topic for NASA and the global space exploration community.

Psyche is located in the outer part of the main asteroid belt about 280 million miles from the sun, and is the most massive metallic M-type asteroid out there. For the scientists at SESE, however, a modestly sized 3D printed version of the asteroid is a good starting point for getting to grips with the giant rock.

Experts say Psyche could be the stripped core of a failed planet. If this is true, getting a closer look at it could tell us a great deal about how planets are composed. That’s why NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is sending a spacecraft there in 2023, a mission that will take seven years—five years travel, two years research.

“This is the first time humans will be able to explore a planetary core,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, principal investigator of the Psyche mission and director of SESE. “The mission will help us gain insights into the metal interior of all rocky planets in our solar system, including Earth.”

Eddie Fernandez prepares the model for printing (Images: ASU)

At present, there are no images of Psyche’s surface available, only radar returns. That made making a 3D printed model of the asteroid somewhat difficult, but the SESE scientists are confident that their model could paint a fairly accurate picture of what the massive asteroid really looks like. According to Elkins-Tanton, the 3D model, with its variably sized craters, was based on scientific hypotheses, and took several years to complete. She designed the model alongside artist Peter Rubin.

The 3D printed asteroid was fabricated at a dedicated makerspace in the Technology Center on ASU’s Polytechnic campus. There, a Stratasys Objet 350, the most accurate 3D printer on site, was fired up to run a continuous print that would last 86 hours and 43 minutes. “It’s going to be about as big as a basketball but as heavy as a bowling ball,” said engineering associate Eddie Fernandez as he was overseeing the print job.

Once Psyche was out of the 3D printer, Fernandez removed support material at a cleaning station, where water jets were also used to clean the surface of the print. Finally, the 10 kg asteroid model was given a three-hour sonic bath to enhance its surface finish.

While Elkins-Tanton is hopeful that the 3D printed Psyche is a faithful depiction of the real thing, her line of work has prepared her to expect the unexpected. “It’s going to surprise us,” she said. “I’m pretty darn sure of that.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


comeinandburn wrote at 3/17/2017 3:01:43 PM:

why are they doing a solid print? What a waste of time and material.

Eric Spidell wrote at 3/16/2017 11:46:33 PM:

Just what is the point of this exercise? They made a mock-up (not a model) of an idea of what this asteroid might look like. If you wanted to do this cheaper, hit the grocery store and go to the potato bin.

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive