Scale Model ISS

In Spring 2020, I collaborated with Ben Martell and Andrew Guterriez to design and fabricate a model International Space Station exhibit for MIT Space Week. In about a month, we planned and built a 6’ wingspan ISS model which visitors could walk around, under, and through.

“Space Week” is a set of events designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and explorers through interaction with MIT’s people and work. During the event, regional schools and the general public visits MIT, cycling through many exhibits, tours, and presentations.

Ben, an MIT AeroAstro graduate student, was given the task of building an interactive exhibit for Space Week that would showcase the International Space Station. We discussed several ideas for the event, including a life-size interior capsule, or a Cupola with live-streaming video.

Based on the limited time and budget, we decided to build a 3d-printed scale model ISS. The model would hang inside a 10’x10’x10’ frame, showing visitors a perspective towards the shifting 3D nature of the station that is not often shown in photography.

Designing the Exhibit

We started by using reference models and photography to build a low-resolution replica of the space station. There are several high-fidelity models available on the internet, but limiting the detail allowed us to print the pieces quicker and with no support material.

Model ISS - Solidworks Design

As early designs were formed, it became clear the 3d print alone was not strong enough to hang the entire model. We chose a hybrid of 3d-printed cosmetic sections, 8020 aluminum extrusion, and laser-cut acrylic for the ISS.

The aluminum extrusions support the weight of the ISS and provide hanging points to connect to the exhibit frame. The ISS modules, each 3d printed separately, slid over the aluminum extrusion.

Model ISS - Modular Design

Lastly, the solar array was laser cut using a combination of transparent and blue acrylic. I used the equipment at the Artisan’s Asylum to laser-cut the acrylic panels.

Ben, Andrew and I each printed 247 for about a week of prints, and used approximately 5kg of PLA filament between our three printers. We printed on two Creality Ender 3 printers, and one Creality Ender 5 printer.

Model ISS - 3d Printing

Exhibit Frame

In addition to the ISS itself, we also built a 10’x10’x10’ frame that the model would hang within. This was constructed from plywood and 8020 aluminum extrusion.

Model ISS - Frame

The Finished Model

This project was a lot of fun! We worked extremely hard to juggle the short timeline and get everything printed and assembled on time. We were very happy with the end result, seen below after its first assembly.

Model ISS Model ISS

Cancelled Plans…

Unfortunately, the Space Week event was cancelled due to COVID-19 before we had a chance to show off the model to the public.

The project stayed there until 2021, when we got permission to permanently install the main ISS model in the lobby of one of the MIT AeroAstro buildings. We are currently working on reinforcing the frame and preparing to mount the model!