For the first time in 20 years, the International Space Station will be upgrading its on-board printers. HP Envy Zero Gravity printers are being prepared at the ready for astronauts and residents courtesy of HP.
With the intricate technology in use throughout the ISS (International Space Station), it’s easy to overlook the importance of a reliable printer in space. But after 20 years of using much older machines, HP will be delivering HP Envy Zero Gravity Printers next year to the on-board crew. Whilst this isn’t HP’s first involvement with developing technology for the ISS team (HP previously provided an overhaul on the IT systems and devices used in the station), it will be the first time HP will develop a specialized printer for use within the ISS.
The Need for Zero Gravity Printers
Whilst a strange concept at first, it’s regarded that printers are regularly used in the ISS for a variety of printing tasks that benefit both the crew and the astronauts during important research missions. They are often relied on for printing out critical mission information, emergency evacuation procedures and sometimes, for the team to print photos sent from friends and family at home. NASA state that crew members on the ISS will print roughly 1,000 pages a month between two designated printers. As the ISS covers a large geographical area, printers are active for both the U.S and Russian segments of the station, so trustworthy printers are important to have access to.
Meeting NASA Requirements
Should any technology partner of the ISS want to design electronic devices for use in the station, NASA have set some strict guidelines and requirements to follow. These ensure that anything submitted to the ISS is able to cope with the general environment on-board. In the case of the HP Envy Zero Gravity Printers, this meant that HP had to adapt it so that it was able to handle paper management in a zero gravity environment. It also had to be able to self-manage ink waste during the printing process, be flame retardant and be power efficient. To help address these concerns, HP worked with a small unit from NASA containing four astronauts who use on-board printing facilities.
Preparing for Printer Lift Off
Since the finalized printer has now been tweaked to NASA’s guidelines, NASA is planning to deliver the first two HP Envy Zero Gravity printers up to the ISS next year. This will coincide with a SpaceX resupply mission which is due to take place in February 2018. They are then due to be in use throughout the rest of the ISS program (NASA predicts this to be from 2018 through to 2024, potentially with plans also throughout 2028). Ronald Stephens, Research and Development Manager for HP’s Specialty Printing Systems Division expects that “this will be the last printer they get in the space station”, as NASA and HP have retrofitted approximately 50 of the HP Envy printers to last roughly one to two years each.