The ISS has many advanced instruments, as well as two twenty-year-old Epson 800 printers. The maintenance of these inkjet printers has become too difficult. That is why they will soon be replaced by HP printers that have been modified for weightlessness.
Printing in the ISS is necessary, not only for snapshots from the home front, but also to have working documents and procedure descriptions on paper if the power fails and there is no use can be made of the existing computer screens.
Epson did not respond to an invitation from NASA to develop a new printer; HP did. A manager of NASA, Stephen Hunter, in an interview with website Collectspace said that the astronauts wanted to make use of an existing commercial printer, which is subsequently adapted. The problem is that printers today can do more than just print. Scanning and copying is useful, but if the glass plate breaks into space, it can immediately create an emergency situation. One of the modifications is the removal of the glass plate.
Ultimately, the choice fell on an existing OfficeJet 5740 printer. According to Hunter, the HP printer is already very suitable for operation in weightless situations, because a small arm brings the paper into the printer and a roller system lifts the top of the paper. At this point, no serious adjustments were necessary.
This was different when collecting the sheets once printed. Without the addition of a fixation when collecting the prints, the cabin would be full of whirling A4 pages within no time. To solve this, a special component made by a 3D printer was added to the printer, a kind of drawer with flexible fingers that simulates the gravity that grabs the paper, as it were.
Ink can also be a problem in space . Laser printers were considered to be too dangerous, partly because of the excessive power requirement, but also because floating, leaked ink can lead to contamination. The cartridges and printheads did not require modifications, but in theory ink drops can escape from the printer. To solve this problem, HP filled up a lot of open space in the printer and many openings were taped with tape. Furthermore, adjustments have been made to the system that moves the print head, and the printer is made of refractory materials.
A copy of the new, customized printer, called HP Envy ISS, is on its way to the ISS, after Monday with a Dragon capsule was launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX. The printer is likely to be used for the first time sometime in May.