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HP printer blasts off into space

Wednesday, 11 April 2018
By Print 21 Online Article

SpaceX 14 blasts off with the HP Envy ISS Printer.

Astronauts on the International Space Station are now printing out letters from home, photographs and training materials on a new custom-built zero gravity HP Envy ISS Printer that was launched last week on-board the SpaceX 14 rocket.

When NASA recently decided it was time to replace the space station’s Epson 800 after almost twenty years, HP stepped in to provide a customised zero-gravity printer.

“They were interested in our OfficeJet 5740 printer and working with us to figure out what would be the best way to replace the technology that they currently have on the space station,” Ronald Stephens, R&D manager for HP Specialty Printing Systems told collectSPACE in an interview.

HP developed the new Envy ISS, a modified OfficeJet inkjet printer.

While the bulk of the printer is off-the-shelf, NASA had a list of requirements needed to safely operate in space, including: paper management in zero-G; flame retardant plastics; waste ink management in zero-G; glass removal; wired and wireless connectivity; and printing in multiple orientations.

“We were not required to make any changes to the ink or the ink cartridges for it to work,” said Stephens. “To prevent the ink from just drooling out of the printhead, this family of inkjet printers uses foam inside the print cartridge and the capillary force of the liquid in the foam is what gives us the back pressure in the ink cartridge so the ink doesn’t ooze out.”

The ISS crew members print about two reams of paper a month across all printers. Hardcopies are used for procedural and mission critical information like Emergency E-Books, inventory Return trajectories, timelines, and personal items. 

While the astronauts have access to laptop and tablet computers, there are some things that cannot be kept in electronic format only in case of emergency, according to Stephen Hunter, NASA’s manager for space station computer resources at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

“If you think about how much you print at home, or how much you print in your office environment, the same kind of thing applies in space, except that there are some critical things the crew has to print like training materials. You also get things that are very personal to the crew — letters from home and photographs.”

On Monday, April 2 at 4:30 p.m. EDT, SpaceX had a successful liftoff (video below) of its fourteenth Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-14) to the International Space Station.




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