Pluto Flyby: Formlabs Engineer 3D Prints Replica of NASA’s New Horizons Space Probe
“Space: the final frontier.”
For now at least, and likely for decades, if not centuries to come, this phrase may be better stated as “Pluto, the final frontier.” Pluto, which is the farthest (dwarf) planet from Earth within our solar system (outside of our solar system, the next star system, Alpha Centauri is over 5.8 trillion miles away), was for the first time explored via the interplanetary space probe, New Horizons. At a distance of 7.5 billion miles from Earth, the journey, which took close to 10 years, has finally paid dividends this week.
To commemorate this awesome journey, an engineer at Formlabs named Brian Allan, who has had a bit of an infatuation with this particular space mission ever since its launch in 2006, decided to 3D print a replica of the now-famous space probe, New Horizons.
“I like to commemorate things that are important to me or fun events as best as I can, so I thought I would use my modeling ability as well as my access to 3D printers as my way to commemorate this awesome point in history,” explained Allan. “Additionally within those 10 years I did have a summer where I was lucky enough to work for NASA, and one thing I saw was that mission planners all had these small toilet paper tube models of spacecraft they would use to talk about motions their spacecraft would make (at least this is what I was told).”
Allan decided that since he’s now working for one of the more popular 3D printer manufacturers on the planet, and has adequate 3D modeling skills, this would be the perfect time to create something of meaning, not only for himself but for all of the space exploration-loving individuals out there.
He started by modeling the space probe using Blender 3D, a free software that anyone can download. From there he of course used a Formlabs Form 1+ SLA printer to fabricate the model at a 50 micron accuracy. In total, the New Horizons model took approximately 8 hours of printing overnight. Allan used a black resin which he was running low on, but decided to give it a whirl anyway. To his pleasure, it turned out excellent. The total size of the completed print was approximately 4.75 inches from the base to the top of the power supply. Now it was time to finish the model and take some pictures!
“The finishing process was pretty easy,” explained Allan. “After taking off the supports very carefully, I sanded down the main dish mostly and proceeded to paint the part. First I gave it a coat of Krylon spray paint. This was to 1, add all the white features like the dishes and 2, make sure the model paint would have a surface it would adhere to better. Since you can’t make colored prints with the Form 1+ and i did not want to buy a red blue and white bottle of model paint, I simply used some markers to draw the little american flag on a piece of paper to put on the side.”
Once the paint dried Allan wanted to take some realistic looking photos so he simply Googled an image of Pluto and put it on his TV screen. He tied a string to the model and dangled it in front of the TV as he snapped a few photos, one which you can see above.
Allan is incredibly appreciative of NASA for inspiring this work as well as providing himselt and others with visuals and data to better understand our solar system.
“I would like to thank NASA for being such an inspiration in moments like these, and to congratulate them on the monumental trip that they made to one of the most interesting places in our solar system,” he said.
Now all we have to do is figure out a way to launch a probe at the speed of light so that we can all have photos of the Alpha Centauri star system (around 4.37 light years away from Earth) within our lifetimes. Let’s hear your thoughts on this cool little project in the 3D Printed New Horizons forum thread on 3DPB.com.
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