Printing the NASA 3D Models

Shuttle

Update: Thinking about it for just a moment, I realized the print quality would likely be higher if I printed in “launch position”. Doing so would greatly improve the wing quality while also, hopefully, improving tail quality in that there would be fewer really small layers (that cause the print head to slow way down, causing blobbing). The disadvantage would be a lot more support material, especially around the engines, and, thus, a potentially difficult, if not destructive, post print cleanup.

And it worked! I only lost one control jet off the back during cleanup, even!

There are more photos of the final printed piece and of the print in progress in my Flickr feed (link goes to a photo in the middle of the set).


I remember watching the first Shuttle launch way back in 1981. If you’d told me then that I’d be casually printing a small copy of the Shuttle on my own personal 3D printer 32 years later, I might have thought you were crazy. Or, at 11 years old, I probably would have have asked, “Why so long from now?”


3D Printed Shuttle

NASA has kindly dumped a treasure trove of 3D models available for free download.

Obviously, these beg to be printed. Doing so is a matter of jumping through a couple of file conversion hoops. The files start out as Autodesk 3DS files.

Meshlab can be used to import said files and then export them to STL. You might need to do some mixup after. Using netFabb, I found several errors in the model’s geometry and fixed it. I believe Meshlab can do the same, but I’m not familiar enough with the tool

Slicing for printing is tricky. The models give zero consideration, no surprise, for 3D printing. In fact, they are entirely sub-optimal for printing. For example, the shuttle’s cargo bay is empty, leading to a bit of a support mess, and it would print much better if the wings sat flat on the print bed. Thus, even the simple Space Shuttle model has a curved bottom. You’ll probably want to enable support when slicing. Some of the models, like the lunar landers, are unlikely to be able to be printed using an extruded plastic printer without support material that can be dissolved away afterwords (i.e print in PLA or ABS with PVA support material.

As a first print, I sliced using Cura with 20% infill, 0.2mm layer height, and support material turned on. It actually turned out better than expected!




One Response to “Printing the NASA 3D Models”

  1. Papa Joe says:

    Hi Bill,

    is it possible to send me a couple of 3D photos of the LEM?
    a couple of guys that live here worked on the lunar module and i think a 3D photo of it would be nice to give to them.
    let me know if you can do it.
    Thanks

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