Tag Archives: 3D Printing

3D Printing an Asteroid

NASA has always been about accomplishing crazy. In the 1960s, the idea of people walking around on the moon was ludicrous, but NASA got them there anyways. Now, NASA is performing another crazy feat: sending a probe to an asteroid, collecting rock samples, and returning that probe to Earth. Additionally, the probe has created a digital map of the asteroid which we can recreate, simply by using a 3D printer.

OSIRISREx - 3D Printing Asteroid

In September 2016, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer space probe (OSIRIS-REx for short) was launched aboard an Atlas V rocket. It quickly made its way into space and began its journey towards the asteroid designated 101955 Bennu. This journey lasted over two years as the robe used low-power thrusters and gravity assists from Earth to reach its destination.

Side by Side - 3D Printing Asteroid

Side by Side – 3D Printing Asteroid

OSIRIS-REx reached Bennu in December of 2018, and as it approached, it used its long-range PolyCam sensors to map out the surface of the asteroid. After arriving, OSIRIS-REx used its short-range cameras to take even higher resolution images of Bennu’s surface. NASA scientists used that data to create 3D models and released them to the public!

Rotation - 3D Printing Asteroid

Since we’re lucky enough to have a number of 3D printers here at camp, we decided to print our very own Bennu asteroid! You can see the results below, but if you want to have your own version of the asteroid, you can find the files at https://www.asteroidmission.org/updated-bennu-shape-model-3d-files/

Written By: Scott Yarbrough

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Nylon

Nylon was patented on February 16, 1937 by Wallace Carothers. Almost exactly one year later, it hit the shelves in the form of toothbrush bristles. In the intervening years, it has been used for packaging food, building car engines, clothing, fishing line, 3D printing… it even went to the moon! But just what is this multipurpose material?


Buzz Aldrin and the Nylon flag that they brought to the moon on Apollo 11. Note the rigid support rod at the top to support the flag in the near vacuum conditions. Credit NASA.

This is a model of Nylon 6,6; the most common industrial form. Each molecule is relatively small and simple, but they bind together into long chains when the negative nitrogen bonds to the positively charged carbon at the base of another chain, similar to metallic links in a traditional chain. These long chains in chemistry are called polymers, and nylon is the name used for a large family of slight variations on this idea.


Caption: Models of Nylon 6,6 chaining together. Red is oxygen, blue is nitrogen, black is hydrogen, and the carbon chain backbone is white. This process happens through a chemical reaction called condensation polymerization, because a molecule of water is produced when the two connect.

One reason that nylon is so useful is that it is a thermoplastic. Around 500oF it begins to liquify. This allows it to be drawn out into long very thin strings. Nylon fabric is just like normal fabric, except that it is made of these tiny thermoplastic fibers. As a synthetic material, it doesn’t mold. It is also waterproof and quick drying, making it ideal for a lot of lightweight outdoor clothing. With all of the rain we are supposed to get this year, this is a good time for appreciating nylon!

Nylon Print

This nylon molecule model is made out of…Nylon!

2015 Space Tech Expo: Space Exploration

The 2015 Space Tech Expo is in full swing! Over 2000 people are attending the conference and festivities in Long Beach this week, including some of the biggest players in the industry like SpaceX and Boeing. With such a focus on the newest technology and ideas for space flight, we thought this would be a great time to take a look back at this exciting year in space exploration!

Dragon Big

The past year has been an especially exciting time for those of us always looking skywards!

NASA had its first test launch of the long-awaited Orion Spacecraft back in December. The world watched as Orion sat on the launch pad, and then watched again as its launch was rescheduled due to a faulty valve. The second launch went off without a hitch and NASA scientists are still going through the data after the successful test flight.

NASA Kennedy Space Center

Orion launches into the early morning sky on December 5th. Credit: NASA, Kennedy Space Center

There were also a couple of notable firsts. The ESA succeeded in the incredibly delicate task of landing Philae on the surface of a comet. As the Rosetta spacecraft stayed in orbit around the comet, it unearthed new information about their makeup and origins.

Philae ESA

Rosetta takes a selfie with Comet 67P and its Philae lander somewhere below. Credit ESA, Philae, Rosetta, CIVA

The first orbit of a dwarf planet when NASA’s Dawn spacecraft settled in above Ceres. In doing so, it revealed the now-famous mysterious white spots.


Rotation of Ceres from pictures taken by the Dawn spacecraft showing the mysterious white spots. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

SpaceX continued to really push the limits, including their attempt to reuse the Falcon 9 rocket. This was closely followed by its “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”….perhaps one of the best phrases for such an event ever used.


The Falcon 9 recovery ends in a “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”. Photos from Elon Musk

2015 has more to offer as well, with New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever launched, closing in on Pluto having already sent back the best pictures of it to date! New Horizons will continue its mission, making the first ever flyby of Pluto on July 14 before heading further into the Kuiper Belt in search of a new target.


This animation of Pluto from New Horizons shows a light region that might indicate the presence of an ice cap! The animation makes it look as though Pluto stays still, but in reality it wobbles due to its relatively large moon. Credit NASA, New Horizons

We also had the start of the Year in Space. Astronaut Scott Kelly went back to the ISS for his second stint. This time, he will stay for a whole year. His twin brother, Mark Kelly who was also an astronaut, will remain on the ground. After this year, they will be examined back on Earth to try to get a better idea of how space affects the human body.


Astronauts Terry Virtz and Scott Kelly show off their space suits in the Quest Airlock. Credit NASA TV

The Orion Spacecraft and Scott Kelly’s year in space have generated a lot of excitement about Mars in people from AstroCamp staff and students, to President Obama himself. Whatever happens, the future of spaceflight isn’t set in stone. It’s set among the stars.

Making Moving Parts with a 3D Printer

3D Printers are getting more common, and are REALLY cool, but how do they work? In principle, it is quite a simple science. Most 3D printers use a plastic filament, and have a nozzle that heats up to about 200 degrees C (about 400 degrees F). This melts the plastic as it passes through the nozzle, known as an “extruder”. The 3D printer is told by a computer where and when to move its nozzle and dump out the hot melted plastic. The plastic rapidly cools, and leaves a solid behind as the extruder moves on to lay down more plastic.

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The extruder will start at the bottom and make all of the things it needs to at that elevation (known as a layer), and then move up to start the next layer. Not terribly complicated. The extruder knows where to go because of a 3D file that is run through a program called a “Slicer” that decides what to do at every layer. The printer continues this process for every layer, building the entire thing from the bottom up. The unsliced file for the spinning rings seen in the video is on the left.

This allows for some cool things! These rings are one of the coolest things we have made. You may be able to see in the image above that there are some cone like pieces sticking out of the inner rings and into the outer ones. These act like axles. They cannot be cylindrical, because the 3D printer goes from top to bottom. With cylindrical axles, there would suddenly be a layer where something would be built with nothing under it to support it resulting in scary conglomerations of plastic resembling monsters from bad science fiction. Using cones in this way solves this issue.

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As the printer makes its way to these axles, it prints the layer shown above. You can see the cone and the recess being formed. As the printer continues on its way, these will be locked in place. This allows that entire spinning ring assembly to be printed as a single item! In fact, it can’t be taken apart without breaking the entire structure! Understanding these constraints on 3D printing allows for some very interesting challenges, and ultimately some incredibly cool designs! Check out those spinning rings again. Can you see the axle cones?

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These printers aren’t just for making cool designs. NASA is currently using a brand new 3D printer in orbit aboard the ISS. One of there astronauts needed a wrench, so they sent him the design file, and he made on on board! They even shared the plans for this wrench, allowing us to print our very own!

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We would like to thank you for visiting our blog. AstroCamp is a hands-on physical science program with an emphasis on astronomy and space exploration. Our classes and activities are designed to inspire students toward future success in their academic and personal pursuits. This blog is intended to provide you with up-to-date news and information about our camp programs, as well as current science and astronomical happenings. This blog has been created by our staff who have at least a Bachelors Degree in Physics or Astronomy, however it is not uncommon for them to have a Masters Degree or PhD. We encourage you to also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and Vine to see even more of our interesting science, space and astronomy information. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or share our blog with others. Please visit www.astrocampschool.org for additional information. Happy Reading!