Two HP Envy printers are now on low orbit after the successful launch of the SpaceX CRS-14 mission on a Falcon 9 rocket on April 2.
Last week, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket had its lift off from Cape Canaveral bringing with it payloads, cargo, and 5,800 pounds of supplies. The shipments will be critical in science and research study onboard the International Space Station.
Together with vehicle hardware, live plants and animals are two HP Printers designed for zero gravity printing on board the ISS.
ISS Crew Members
Astronauts need printers for hard copies of documents containing critical information about their mission. These documents include data on trajectories and timelines. Apart from this mission-related paperwork, the crew members also wanted to print personal letters and photographs they have sent by their loved ones from Earth.
In the estimate, crew members print at least two reams of paper monthly in all of the printers they have in space. For 20 years, astronauts had used Epson 800 printers onboard.
In 2017, however, NASA announced that HP OfficeJet5740 Printer would replace the Epson model. HP was honored about the selection that it developed a custom HP Envy with zero-gravity capability.
HP Envy Printer Ink Cartridge Number
The model uses Original HP 62 and 62XL cartridges that did not require any re-engineering to meet the demand of being in space. Even before its partnership with NASA, HP has created the ink with technology and chemical foundation that is compatible to use on Earth and in space.
The main challenge of a zero-gravity environment is the micro ink droplets during actual printing. These droplets from the printer heads could float inside the spacecraft according to Stephen Hunter, manager for ISS Computer Resources.
Hunter explains to Forbes that HP engineers' was faced with the task to contain those micro ink droplets and prevent it from contaminating the spacecraft.
"Our design team had to step back and think what does gravity do to this part of the printer or the printing process," says Ron Stephens, research & development manager for HP.
Stephens' team did not have the luxury to create the printer in space and was left with the only option of simulating a zero-gravity environment.
First, they 3D printed the printers' parts with the consideration that these parts will experience spinning and whirling in space. They removed the glass panel and sealed the printer from the inside out. As for the printer head, where the microdroplet of inks could come out, the engineers sealed it with fire-retardant plastic materials. For an added protection, they covered the printer head with a white-foam absorbent material for final touches.
At this level, the team was finally given the chance to collaborate with the National Research Council of Canada which posses a zero-gravity aircraft. As an ultimate trial for the printer, the engineers tested it in 20 to 25 seconds of zero-gravity flight in the aircraft for three consecutive days.