The International Space Station has been using the same printer for almost two decades, but that’s about to change. SpaceX is launching a rocket carrying a new one for the ISS into space today, and it sounds like astronauts were long overdue for a replacement.
New printer to arrive at the ISS today
The zero-gravity environment in space makes doing everything a challenge, including printing. According to collectSPACE, the ISS has had the same Epson 800 inkjet printer since the initial crew took up residence more than 17 years ago. However, the space station’s crew has apparently been having a difficult time keeping the printer online, even when switching it out on a regular basis. NASA manager Stephen Hunter told collectSpace that the maintenance involved in taking care of the Epson printer on the ISS has become too difficult, which meant that they had to either update it or just stop printing in space entirely.
Since the astronauts staying on the space station use approximately two reams of paper monthly, the obvious solution was an upgrade. Hunter explained that there are certain important documents that must be kept on paper because they can’t only be held electronically. For example, the ISS could lose power, and the astronauts onboard would need access to such documents.
HP develops the Envy ISS
NASA asked Epson to build the next printer for the space station, but the company declined, so the agency turned to HP instead. Ronald Stephens, a manager for research and development in HP’s Specialty Printing Systems, explained to collectSPACE why building a printer for the ISS is much more difficult than designing models for use on Earth.
NASA began looking for a printer it could modify to make it work in space, and it settled on HP’s Office Jet 5740. In addition to disabling some functions and removing the glass, which would be a hazard if it were to shatter in space, HP also had to figure out how to make it capable of printing in microgravity. The company had to change the way the paper is held in place and captured after it comes back out so that it doesn’t fly around the room after printing. HP used 3D printing to create a redesigned output tray to help with that and to modify a few other parts of the printer.