People need printers, even in space, but on the International Space Station (ISS), not just any printer will do. NASA has a specific set of requirements in order to avoid problems that just aren’t considered here on Earth: the printer has to function in zero gravity, especially in terms of paper management and waste ink disposal, have no glass, as well as meet environmental standards by being flame retardant and safe. Plus, it’s not like the ISS crew can just order replacement printer parts online with a same-day delivery - it’s a tad more expensive to fix problems when the nearest office supply store is 408 kilometres away.
The Coolest Printer Not On Earth
The HP Envy ISS (Zero-Gravity) printer was built to meet the highest standards of space technology. Production began in 2017 by adapting the existing HP OfficeJet 5740 printer to meet NASA’s additional standards before the finished HP Envy ISS was finally launched on April 2nd, 2018, along with an array of other technical supplies. The International Space Station, and the printers aboard it, orbits the Earth at a variable height of around 400 kilometres over the planet, every 90 minutes. It certainly puts the earthly concerns of a paper jam into perspective while these ISS printers traverse our planet in a way no airplane could.
The ISS crew prints an average of two reams of paper per month, and requires the printer to have options of wireless and wired connectivity, as well as to be able to print in multiple orientations. The most difficult standard to meet, however, were the zero-gravity prerequisites. Although equally difficult to test, through creative reengineering and 3D printing with specialised materials, a printer was born with the ability to withstand the specific pressures of space.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of this printer is its ink cartridges - the standard Original HP 62 and 62XL cartridges. That’s right - the same cartridges you use in your printer are also floating up in the International Space Station. The technology of the cartridges, as well as the chemical composition of the ink, was already made to be compatible with a variety of Earth environments, as well as with a space environment. Way to think ahead!
We’re well used to hearing about amazing new technologies created specially for space travel, but to learn that common, everyday items are also used in space is even more amazing. Even ordinary printers are adaptable to one of the most inhospitable environments.