It may have never crossed your mind that astronauts need to have a printer on the International Space Station. After all, they are surrounded with a number of high-end technology and numerous scientific instruments. Yes, they also have a printer but it is very old and needs to be changed.

In 2017, NASA selected the HP OfficeJet 5740 Printer as a “Next Generation Printer” to replace the existing printing capability onboard the ISS. In response to this selection, HP developed a custom HP ENVY Zero-Gravity Printer for use in the ISS.

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A New Zero-Gravity Printer

The printer currently used from 2000 up to this day is the Epson 800. Some may say that it is still very good despite its age but it looks like the astronauts are having a difficult time trying to maintain it. It came to either changing it or stop printing things altogether. And since the Space Station always has a lot of things that they need to print, it seemed natural that they needed an upgrade.

NASA tried to reach Epson so that they could create a new printer but they denied the invitation so HP took them up on their offer.

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When it came to deciding on the appropriate model that they were going to use, it was decided that the HP Office Jet 5740 was the best option, since it was not made of glass and it could have been modified if the astronauts needed to. However, there was one small problem with it. The printer worked very well but in zero gravity it may have had a problem with managing its paper. Moreover, NASA wanted the printer to be safe. This meant that the inkjet cartridges would have to use foam so that the ink would not just start to float around and become a potential safety risk.

This all meant that HP had to work very hard in order to fit the specific things that NASA wanted. In the end, they managed to come up with a modified printer that met every single thing that was previously discussed.

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The underside of the HP Envy ISS’s 3D printed paper tray has the names of the team members who helped to develop the printer for the International Space Station.

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

The HP ENVY Zero-Gravity Printers are currently scheduled to launch to the ISS on the Space-X 14 rocket.

Watch: The Canadian connection to today’s SpaceX launch

HP ENVY ISS Printer

While the bulk of the HP ENVY Zero-Gravity printer is off-the-shelf, NASA had a list of requirements that the printer needed in order to safely operate onboard the ISS including:

  • Paper management in zero-G
  • Flame retardant plastics
  • Waste ink management in zero-G
  • Glass removal
  • Wired and wireless connectivity
  • Printing in multiple orientations (0⁰, 90⁰.180⁰ & 270⁰ positions)
  • Environmental Testing (EMI, Materials, Acoustics, Flammability, Off-gassing, Power Compatibility, etc.)

The zero-G requirements were the most challenging to meet and verify due to their unique nature. Through creative reengineering and the use of specialized materials and 3D printed components, the HP ENVY Zero-Gravity Printer successfully met all of NASA’s requirements.

HP ORIGINAL INK

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The ISS Envy uses Original HP 62 and 62XL cartridges, both of which did not require any re-engineering or modifications to be used on the International Space Station in a zero gravity environment. The technology and chemical formulation of the inks were already designed to work across many boundaries, including on earth, and in space.

Mission ‘NV’

Taking all of the changes into account, the modified-for-orbit OfficeJet 5740 differs from an off-the-shelf printer by only about 10 percent. But, as it turns out, that was enough to warrant a new name.

Borrowing from another of its product lines, HP named its space station printer the ”HP ENVY
ISS” printer

The first HP Envy ISS is launching on SpaceX’s CRS-14 Dragon cargo spacecraft and is expected to be installed by the station’s crew for a qualification run in May.

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“We’re deploying this as a technology demonstration before we can do the full out replacement,” said Hunter. “I’m expecting, based on the amount of testing that we have done for this, that this printer will work flawlessly.”

Assuming everything does work, the Envy ISS will replace the two Epson printers — one in the U.S. and one in the Russian segment — on board the space station. NASA intends for the Envy ISS to be in use through the end of the space station, whenever that may be. (At present, the station’s partners have agreed to extend to at least 2024.)

“For the ground, we bought of the 50 of the unmodified, right-off-the-shelf printers to provide our training areas and have spares, and we purchased 50 printers to be modified for flight,” said Hunter, noting the quantities were based on HP production runs.

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“We’re very excited about it because this is the first new printer for the ISS since its inception 20 years ago,” he said.

For its part, HP is prepared to support the Envy ISS printer on the space station, a project it has dubbed “Mission NV.”

“It’s been a blast to work with the NASA team very closely,” said Stephens. “It has certainly been the most exciting project I have worked on in my many years with HP.”

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