Frequently Asked Questions

When will the 3D printer be completed?

The current plan is to submit the final, completed prototype to NASA in May of 2014.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of turning a computer model into a physical model. There are several methods used in industry; with the most popular methods being: Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Multi/PolyJet printing, and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). FDM was selected for use due to its relative simplicity. A spool of filament, typically ABS or PLA, feeds into an extruder module that melts and places the material in a highly accurate pattern. The entire operation can be thought of as precision glue gun, melting plastic instead of adhesive. The other methods, SLA and SLS, proved too complicated and intricate for an easily collapsible design.

What is X-Hab?

X-Hab is NASA's deep space habitat. It is designed to be a place for humans to live off world. This could be set up on the moon, mars or even farther away.

What does "low gravity printing" mean?

Low gravity printing means printing in gravity that is less than that of earth. There are unique problems that arise when printing in lower gravity such as different print layers and hot plastic emitting toxic gasses. Currently, there are no in-use 3D printers that print in low gravity.

Why does the X-Hab need a 3D printer?

Having a 3D printer will allow astronauts to replace parts and tools without having to wait for a shipment from earth, which could take years to reach them. It is also more space efficient to ship up a spool of plastic and turn it into the needed parts on location.

Why does the printer need to collapse?

Space on the X-Hab is limited so everything needs to be as compact as possible so that everything astronauts need can be stored there. Our printer needs to collapse when it is not in use so that when it is not taking up space that the astronauts need. In addition, a smaller volume requires less space when sending it into deep space.

Where can I learn more about your project?

There are many ways to learn more about our project and stay up to date on our work. Our website has a News/Updates section where all the most important events are recorded. Our blog contains a more in-depth record of all our progress. And to get the most up to date news right as it happens be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

How can I get involved or have a question for your team?

If you are interested in supporting our team we recommend you check our out sponsors/contributions page. For those that wish to get involved in other ways, you can check out our Facebook page and Twitter account for updates of outreach events and public appearances. These are great ways to see our project showcased and to learn more about it. Otherwise, if you wish to contact us, we have a form you can utilize on our contact page

How does the extruder carriage navigate?

All axes control rely on lead screws driven by NEMA 17 stepper motors. Each axis maintains rigidity or collapses as a unit to maintain positional stability.

What are some of the big problems you have run into during design and prototyping?

As with any design, tolerancing of interfacing parts is exceeding crucial. Particularly with a team with a large number of members, technical drawings and assemblies must accurately represent the intended final product. Even small deviations can produce disastrous results. A great rule of thumb - "Good drawings make good parts."

Do you have parabolic flight testing planned?

Within the realm of parabolic flight testing, we are concerned with observed the effects of varying levels of gravity (and microgravity) on the extruded material for hypothesis confirmation. Additionally, we would like to see if the printer can expand, collapse, and actuate as it does on Earth, independent of gravitational environments. However, we have not yet secured flight time, but remain interested in doing so.

Why is it important that the system is modular?

An updated design includes a base frame and mounting system comprised of scalable components. The print volume (and the overall size of the assembly) can theoretically be increased or decreased by changing the size of requisite elements. This becomes important when considering the limiting size of the deep space habitat, be it a station in orbit or planetary base.

As a student, how can I become involved in similar projects?

X-Hab Academic Challenges are run every year through NASA. If students at UW-Madison are exceptionally excited about working on a similar project, they are encouraged to contact Faculty Advisor Dr. Elder about forming a team for the following academic year. Of course, students at other universities can create their own teams with a scope-related advisor and submit their own proposal.