Last week we reported on China’s launch of the Shenzhou 10 mission to the Tiandong space station. What we didn’t know at the time is that the space craft was carrying a 3D printed payload; it’s seats.
For the past 10 years China has been developing the technology for advanced space flight. Priority number one is making sure it’s astronauts get to and from the space station safely.
Since 1998 Professor Cui Guoqi, director of the Rapid Prototyping Research Center in Tianjin University, has creating 3D printed seats for Chinese space missions. Since China’s first manned spaceflight in 2003, each Shenzhou mission has been equipped with a custom made 3D printed seat.
The seat itself is made of a 70mm thick composite material and looks more like a cradle than a traditional chair. Over the course of the last 10 years Cui Guoqi has been improving the design of the Chinese space seats, "During launch and landing these specially designed seats… protect the astronauts, especially their backbones, from being hurt by the jolt during acceleration," Said Prof. Guoqi.
The true testament the flexibility of 3D printing technology comes from knowing that each seat is tailored to precisely fit each astronaut. "Every seat [is] tested by the astronaut in person and undergo[s] adjustments to make it more precise." From data capture to production, each seat takes about 3 months to design.
Now if Cui and his team can only work a little more legroom into those seats...
Images Courtesy of Wang Qing