Dec 2, 2015 | By Kira

We’ve been hearing quite a bit about NASA’s heavy investments in 3D printing technology, from their testing of 3D printed F-1 rocket engine parts, to the design of the 3D printed spacesuits that will dress astronauts on Mars, so today it’s quite refreshing to hear some 3D imaging and 3D printing news coming from the ESA. The European Space Agency has just released a brand new 3D shape model that reveals the Rosetta Comet (more accurately known as Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko) in unprecedented detail. The latest 3D shape model was created with the most up-to-date images taken by the Rosetta spacecraft, and includes previously unmapped features.

3D shape models are a critical tool used by aerospace mission planners to determine navigational paths, select landing sites, and study surface change; however for us non-rocket-scientists, the freely downloadable 3D shape model can be used to create educational graphic representations and/or accurate and awesome 3D prints.

The ESA’s Rosetta space probe has was launched in 2004 to perform a detailed study of the extraordinary, two-lobed comet 67P/C-G. In 2014, its Philae lander module performed the first successful landing on a comet (which, by the way, was assisted by 3D printing). Since then, the mission has continued to return data from the spacecraft and lander, including graphical representation of the comet’s dark, hidden side, and over 681 images of the comet’s unique surface.

Indeed, the Rosetta comet is perhaps most notable for its peanut-like, two-lobed shape. Initially, designers were only able to create a crude outline of what they thought the comet looked like, however in order for the spacecraft to safely navigate its perimeter, a better reference was needed.

The flight dynamics team took that first silhouette and began to identify landmarks on the surface of the comet that could be used to create a framework of reference positions. Initially, they found thirty landmarks, known as ‘maplets’, which were projected onto the crude shape model. Thanks to more recent and detailed imaging however, the team now has roughly 1000 landmarks to work with, which are automatically identified from NAVCAM images.

To celebrate and share all of this new data, the ESA released its detailed 3D shape models to the public. The first model was released in August, however on November 30th, the most up-to-date images taken by the Rosetta’s NAVCAM were integrated into the 3D shape model, revealing parts of the comet’s southern hemisphere that were not available before.

The 3D shape model released in August 2015

The 3D shape model released November 30th, 2015

As the ESA explains, “at its most basic level, a shape model is a geometrical representation of an object”, with applications in the medical imaging of organs or even creating cartoon or video game characters. For the Rosetta space team, the NAVCAM 3D shape model allows them to precisely navigate around 67P/C-G. In addition, “the OSIRIS team have produced a number of shape models in the course of the past year which have been used by Rosetta scientists to select the landing site for Philae, and to determine physical properties of the comet, such as size, volume, and density, as well as measuring the rotation of the comet, its gravitational potential, and tracking changes on the surface.”

However, apart from these very specific and operational applications, 3D shape models can easily be converted into great 3D prints. For that reason, the ESA has made its 3D shape model available under a creative commons license, and in several 3D printable file types including OBJ, WRL and STL. The Agency is encouraging anyone interested in space research and education to use their 3D shape model to 3D print their own physical replica, or to create a cool visualization tool, such as the View Rosetta’s comet tool, which lets you zoom in and fly around the comet.

If you’re looking for another cool way to 3D print the universe and everything within it, check out these beautiful 3D printed galaxy marbles, or NASA, Shapeways and Whiteclouds’ project to 3D print astronomical objects for the visually impaired.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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