VT students launch experimental 3D printer on NASA rocket ship from Wallops Island

Courtesy of Virginia Tech
Courtesy of Virginia Tech (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10) -  How would a 3-D printer work in the microgravity of suborbital space after surviving a jarring ride 100 miles above the earth?

A group of Virginia Tech College of Engineering students hope to have an answer after a launch at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility

Ever the Hokies, the student designed, built and tested machine will 3-D print a plastic Virginia Tech "VT" logo. In space.

Courtesy of Virginia Tech
Courtesy of Virginia Tech

According to Virginia Tech, the experiment will fly aboard a 900-pound NASA two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket, as part of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium's national RockSat-X program that puts university-led experiments into suborbital space.

Virginia Tech says they are one of seven universities to participate in the launch from Wallops Island, Virginia, that was set for 6 a.m. Tuesday, August 11. Backup launch dates have been scheduled August 12 to 14.

The space agency will live Stream the launch at its UStream webpage

According to Virginia tech, the use of a 3-D printer in space is not new. A 3-D printer is on the International Space Station. But this will be the first time such a printer will be used on an unmanned rocket during flight, said Virginia Tech RockSat-X team leader Sebastian Welsh of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and senior in the Department of Computer Science

The student-led project started one year ago under the direction of Kevin Shinpaugh, an adjunct faculty member with aerospace and ocean engineering.

The rocket will spend three minutes in microgravity, in which time the printer created by the students will use hot-melted plastic at 400 degrees to print its Hokie "VT" logo.

The printer already has been tested by NASA for durability, said Shinpaugh. NASA has what amounts to a massive version of a paint can shaker that you'd find at any home repair store for mixing paints. The device can mimic the violent shaking of a rocket launch.

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