Several years after putting the world's first paper plane into near-orbit the team from British tech site The Register is at it again. This time they plan to put the world's first 3D printed plane into orbit. They're calling the plane LOHAN (Low Orbital Helium Assisted Navigator) a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan. They're having quite a bit of fun with the reference too; updating their ongoing coverage with titles like "LOHAN's cold heart beats beneath silicon breast", "LOHAN's nose job lands at 3D printers" and "LOHAN finally checks into REHAB".
All joking aside the plane is a mini-marvel of technology. It's been 3D printed out of nylon by the folks at 3T RPD in the UK. Some of you may remember that 3T RPD is the same firm that created the world's first 3D printed plane, the Sulsa, for the University of Southampton. When the team from the Register heard about the Sulsa they contacted Southampton and asked them to collaborate on LOHAN. A group of post-grad students from Southampton signed onto the project and agreed to provide The Register with the necessary CAD files to print LOHAN. "Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, our crack team of Southampton University post grad students recently delivered the first CAD files for the aircraft's wings, which are as we speak getting the rapid prototyping treatment," the Register team wrote in a recent post. The rapid prototyping treatment they are referring to is the mock-up being created with the Selective Laser Sintering 3D printers at 3T RPD.
You can take a look at a video describing the collaboration and SLS process here:
Right now the team at the Register is still deciding how exactly they plan to launch LOHAN away from the massive helium balloon which will carry it up into the atmosphere and the necessary pieces are slowly being 3D printed one section at a time. The team has not yet set a date for LOHAN's launch, but they have leaked that it is planned for later this year. "So, now there's just the small matter of taking delivery of the bits at the SPB's mountaintop assembly complex, putting them together, rigging the autopilot, servos, and so forth, ground testing the systems and then throwing the beast off a cliff or similar to see if it'll fly. Simple as that," team member Lester Haines wrote. Will LOHAN get as high as the Register team wants her? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, did you know that the Register team isn't the only group with a 3D printing in space fetish? NASA's been feverishly working on plans for the SpiderFab which they hope will print entire structures while in orbit and a team from YELP sent a Printrbot Simple almost into space, trying to print out the YELP logo while in near-orbit.