ISS Mimic: a Link to the International Space Station here on Earth

When computer programmer Dallas Kidd was growing up, she wanted to be an astronomer.

“But I realized as a kid,” she said, “that I didn’t know what that meant, because I didn’t know any astronomers. So I decided I couldn’t do that.”

In high school computer programming classes, when other students were creating financial programs for banks, she again felt discouraged. She thought, “I didn’t know how to do that, so I guess I can’t have a career in this.” It took a long, circuitous journey to get where she is now. “I spent years figuring out what I wanted to do, and if someone had just been there to say, ‘Hey! I’m an astronomer,’ or ‘Hey, I’m a computer programmer. You can do this and here’s how!’ to make it real. I would have done this forever ago.”

Now an engineer at Skylark Wireless, LLC, Kidd is committed to offering those opportunities to students. Recently, she joined a special project that offers eager young learners hands-on experience in applied computer science, electrical engineering, 3d printing and mechatronics and encourages them to focus on space innovation: the ISS Mimic.

Five years ago, on the 15th anniversary of continuous human presence on the International Space Station (ISS), Boeing engineer Bryan Murphy proposed a STEM outreach project to his colleagues who work on the real space station. The idea: to create a 1% scale model of the ISS, complete with moving parts, that mimics in real-time the telemetry data of the space station that circles the earth every 90 minutes.

A poster with the title "ISS Mimic Physical Model Replicating ISS Real Time." A flowchart is labeled "Actual ISS," arrow "Live ISS data pulled from web," arrow "Cheap embedded processing & I/O," arrow "Interactive display," arrow "articulating model of ISS," arrow "Elements illustrate when crew wakes, sleep, perform tasks," arrow "Projection of earth behind model," arrow "Motors rotate 12 joints to match real-time ISS."
A poster created by Bryan Murphy explaining the ISS Mimic project.

Murphy wasn’t the only one in the group who had discovered that NASA was constantly broadcasting live, publicly available data from ISS back to earth via ISS Live. The vast collection of data, including details on battery levels, solar array rotations, air lock pressure, and much more was available for anyone to use. Murphy and his teammates figured: why not bring the station down to earth in a desk-sized model that anyone could interact with? They decided to go for it.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the ISS. For over two decades, Boeing’s ISS team has provided round-the-clock operational support, ensuring that the full value of the world’s most unique and capable research laboratory is available to NASA, its international partners, other U.S. government agencies and private companies. So, for three and a half years following the conception of the ISS Mimic, the off-hours project progressed slowly alongside the engineers’ work supporting the space station and the mind-blowing scientific achievements emerging onboard. The primary project goals were keeping cost and complexity down to be educator friendly while maintaining the essence of ISS.

"...that was the major obstacle that inspired us to either give up the project or fight with everything, with all of our arsenal, to get it refunded."
Sam Treadgold

ISS Mimic steadily took shape, but it wasn’t until February of 2019 before they felt it was ready for public demonstration. They took ISS Mimic to a local high school to show students the moving model. But something was wrong. The live data stream – that important information ISS Mimic relied on to represent its big sister in the sky – had disappeared. “Everything worked until we got there[to the school], and we were like, ‘what’s going on?,’” recalled Craig Stanton, Murphy’s fellow Boeing engineer and ISS Mimic teammate. Without the data, they couldn’t demonstrate the live syncing, but could still show off the mechanics, control screen, LEDs, and 3D printed parts, so in true fail-forward fashion, they pressed on.

The interest from teachers and students was palpable. Though they’d done some small in-house show-and-tells, “it was the first time for us to take it anywhere,” shared Murphy. “For me, it was very motivational to finally be out there.” The team knew they wanted to move forward and get ISS Mimic in the hands of more teachers and students, but what had happened to the data from ISS Live?

ISS Mimic, a 100th scale model of ISS, sits on a table. You can see 3d printed tubes, wires connecting to motors and large, foil covered solar arrays.
The ISS Mimic model includes 3D printed modules and motorized solar arrays. Not pictured is the Raspberry Pi interactive display screen. Photo curtesy of Bryan Murphy.

The team went searching for answers, and the news was not good. Sam Treadgold of Boeing’s ISS team phrased it succinctly, “ISS Live got defunded – the public NASA telemetry suddenly shut down, and that was the major obstacle that inspired us to either give up the project or fight with everything, with all of our arsenal, to get it refunded.”

They thought the project was toast. It would have taken a major decision from NASA leadership to reverse the funding decision, but the tenacious team wasn’t ready to give up. They contacted everyone they knew who had vested interest in the STEM engagement and outreach benefits of the now defunct program. After a string of touches with decision makers, a fateful meeting with William Harris, the CEO of Space Center Houston, the public visitor center next to NASA-Johnson Space Center, brought forth Harris’ support, and the collective efforts were enough to get the funding restored. The data stream turned back on.

ISS Mimic uses real-time data from the International Space Station to control its movements. Photo by Estefannie https://www.youtube.com/user/estefanniegg

“Once we passed that hurdle, it was like the floodgates opened. Let’s go. Let’s do it!” shared Susan Freeman, who also supports Boeing’s space station program. ISS’s 20th anniversary was approaching, and NASA was interested in promoting the project to encourage public interest in ISS. The ISS Mimic itself was in a development state that it could visualize interesting changes on ISS in real time. “One of the data values is the pressure in the U.S. airlock. We monitor that data so our program can recognize when a spacewalk is happening,” said Treadgold, “ Last year, when a hole formed in one of the Russian vehicles, the pressure in the whole ISS started dropping, and our lights started flashing [on ISS Mimic]. There wasn’t a spacewalk going on, and we were aware of the leak.”

“That’s not usually publicly known when that’s happening. It’s usually announced a few days later when NASA makes the public report,” shared Stanton, “but this way, you’re looking at the live data stream, and all of a sudden, you’re just as in the know as the people in the operations room. How cool is that for people and kids at home!”

re:3D donated highly detailed 3D prints of the ISS Mimic solar arrays for the project. The solar arrays are printed with PLA on Gigabot using a 0.25mm nozzle.

And it was becoming more than just an outreach project, they were discovering that this scale model was helping them understand the work they were doing on the real space station with more insight and more collaborative understanding of the challenges and quirks of the flying football-field sized spacecraft. “ISS is massive,” said Freeman, “I know only these tiny little pieces. That in itself is a humbling thing, to realize and accept that I’m not expected to know all of this vehicle. There is so much work done on ISS, and a lot of time you’re so focused on your little, tiny detail, that you don’t necessarily know what else is going on around you.”

Boeing’s Chen Deng, whose day job focuses on supporting the experiments on ISS, explained looking at ISS Mimic helped cut through misunderstanding about thermal needs of payloads. “By looking at [ISS Mimic], we realized it was at an angle where the payload was not getting any of the sunlight needed to keep its warmth or input from the station itself, and that really helped.”

Six people, four men and two women stand in front of a display of the earth with the ISS floating above their heads. All of them are wearing tshirts that read "ISS20"
Some of the ISS Mimic team posing inside of Space Center Houston. From left: Doug Kimble, Craig Stanton, Bryan Murphy, Sam Treadgold, Susan Freeman, Chen Deng. Photo by Estefannie https://www.youtube.com/user/estefanniegg

The ISS Mimic team is in the process of building a second model for Boeing’s internal team in charge of “pointing” the solar arrays. The ISS Mimic can rotate its solar arrays 60 time faster than the actual space station, allowing the engineers to test and visualize their code before using it on the real thing. ISS Mimic can also “replay” previously collected data engineers use to assess and understand anomalies. “This is better than numbers on a screen or even CAD animations,” reflected Treadgold. “You see this and know exactly what’s happening.”

But beyond the functional model, of which they’ve replicated 80-90% of ISS, the team wants to use ISS Mimic to make the interface intuitive, easy to understand and exciting to build for students. To make it so easy to pick up that it’s like a LEGO build, and so inviting that it draws people in to an interest in science or space. “The hardest part to get right is STEM outreach,“ shared Doug Kimble of Boeing’s ISS team. “We need to get more students involved and excited about ISS. We need future astronauts; we need future female astronauts. We need more kids excited about STEM, and science and math, and this is one of the ways we can do it.” Showing students that the robots they’re crashing into each other in competitions use the same encoders, the same programming, the same motor drivers that are on the ISS Mimic makes it accessible and reinforces for students their own capabilities.

“We want these ISS Mimic models everywhere, in every airport, in every museum, in every school. Big dream,” declares Freeman.

“So people can see that they’re capable of this,” explains Murphy, “and have a real chance to play in this domain. It’s a means to let every disadvantaged kid know they can do this stuff, tinker in this field and see if they may want to turn this into more than a hobby one day.” It circles back to Kidd’s experience with a lack of role models. If the team can introduce the ISS Mimic to a student who hadn’t been exposed to the space program before, they might spark an interest the student didn’t even know was there. It might just set them on a path to a career which, for the members of the ISS Mimic team, is challenging, thrilling, and celebrates humanity’s greatest collaboration.

The ISS Mimic team includes:
Chen Deng
Susan Freeman
Dallas Kidd
Doug Kimble
Bryan Murphy
Craig Stanton
Sam Treadgold

Want to volunteer? ISS Mimic is looking for programmers, 3D modelers & educators to join the team! Reach out to them at:
email: iss.mimic@gmail.com
fb: https://www.facebook.com/ISS.mimic/
ig: https://www.instagram.com/iss_mimic/
twitter: https://twitter.com/ISS_Mimic
discord: https://discord.gg/34ftfJe

re:3D offers 3D printed ISS Mimic parts available at shop.re3d.org

COVID-19 Update: Operations, Serving Educators & Joining the Fight

2021 Update

To our Customers and Friends,

Since the latter half of 2020, re:3D has continued to support 3D printed PPE efforts in our local communities and beyond.

With a generous grant from Unreasonable Impact with Barclays, our program PPE for the People has expanded to provide PPE to those in need anywhere. Should you or a group you know have a need for face shields, ear savers, door pulls or splash guards, please fill out the request form at https://houston.impacthub.net/getppe/

We are heartened that vaccine distribution  continues to ramp up and look forward to when we will be able to re-open our Houston Factory to in-person guests. Until then, we’ll keep making printers and PPE to protect those who can’t get it elsewhere, and you are always welcome to sign up for a virtual tour by visiting https://re3d.org/community/

Happy Printing!

~the re:3D Team

 

Update May 29, 2020

It’s been a month since our last update, and our COVID-19 response is still going strong! On May 12, we were honored to receive an honorable mention in the America Makes Fit to Face – Mask Design Challenge.  Designer Mike Battaglia and Engineer Samantha Reeve submitted a mask in two sizes designed to be printed with NinjaTek Cheetah. We continue to collaborate with projects for supplying PPE and consulting on new solutions for face shields to ventilators because we understand that effective face protections is essential for keeping our employees and the general public happy and healthy.

Our Houston factory is still closed to the public, but our team remains committed to building your Gigabots and filling your supply orders and service needs.

Gigabot customers around the world are tirelessly supporting their communities and we are honored to share their stories. If you have been doing COVID-19 work, we’d love to hear from you!

AUSTIN UPDATE
Thanks to the efforts of so many groups in the city, the PPE needs for healthcare workers there have been met and we have wound down our collection boxes for 3D printed PPE.

HOUSTON UPDATE
As the city begins to open back up we have teamed up with Impact Hub Houston on PPE for the People, an effort to provide PPE to workers in minority and under-served communities who are at greater risk of critical illness from COVID-19. Please support this project by sharing, donating and letting local businesses know about the opportunity.

PUERTO RICO UPDATE
The PPE support work in Puerto Rico continues and the Gigabot collaboration at Engine-4 keeps churning out supplies for the island.

If you’d like to be connected to any local effort we would be happy to make introductions and provide resources. Please reach out to us at info@re3d.org.

Update: April 25, 2020

It’s hard to believe that two more weeks have past since our last post! We continue to aggregate and collect your PPE donations in Austin, Houston and PR. We also (just met the deadline for the America Makes Mask Fit Challenge). The final design will be posted to our NIH 3D print exchange tomorrow:)

We continue to be inspired by YOU, and welcome your pics and videos for future stories!

For those of you looking to help with PPE shortages near Austin, Houston and Puerto Rico, details can be found below:

AUSTIN
There is a huge maker community that has sprung to action to support the 3D printing of PPE here in Austin and the surrounding areas.  One of the largest efforts is being run by Masks for Docs (masksfordocs.com), who are actively soliciting donated face shield prints, assembling the shield, and distributing them to hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, etc – all around the Austin area.  To help with this effort, re:3D will be collecting donated 3D printed face shields in drop-boxes at two locations, Brew & Brew, Capital Factory and the Draught House Pub.
 
If you have a 3D printer at home or work & want to help out in the Austin area, you can access the Face Shield Design here. Recommended Print Settings:
  • PETG is preferred, but PLA is completely acceptable if you don’t have PETG or are not able to print with it.
  • 3-4 solid top/bottom layers
  • .3mm layer height
  • 5 Perimeters (AKA Shells or walls)
  • 0% Infill
 

Drop off boxes can be found at:
Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St #105, Austin, TX 78702
The Draught House
4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin, TX 78756
Capital Factory
 701 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701
(located in the parking garage, next to the loading dock:)
 
HOUSTON
TXRX is winding down its collection of its 3d printed face shield as they have been able to move to injection molding; a move we fully support! We are keeping our drop box open for community PPE donations and will make sure they get donated to those in need. Currently we can accept: assembled face shields, ear savers and Montana Masks. As we get more requests we will post opportunities here.

The Clear Lake drop off box can be found at:
re:3D Inc
1100 Hercules STE 220 Houston TX 77058
 
PUERTO RICO
The maker community, including a few Gigabots, have done a fantastic job collaborating in San Juan & beyond. We are currently collecting requests for those in need of PPE and sharing opportunties to connect with Engine-4 and Trede’s efforts in Bayamon, or other groups mobilizing. If you live in Mayaguez and would like create face shield to be assembled with sheets that have been donated to Engine-4, a drop off box has been established. A UPRM student has also initiated a Slack channel to share other needs. Email info@re3d.org for access.
 
 
San Juan face shield coordination:
Engine 4 Co-working Space: donation3dprinting@outlook.com
 
Mayaguez Drop-off: 
UPRM Transit and Security, Tránsito y Vigilancia:
Enter UPRM Campus through main gate, and guard will direct you

Update: April 10, 2020

What a week! You all have done an amazing job helping our neighbors & the community at large!

While we continue to iterate this face shield design for the Texas Children’s Hospital (you can view the design on the NIH 3D Print Exchange), as well as hands-free door pulls, we have been blown away by the many Gigabots around the world who are helping with the fight. We’ve started collecting some stories. If you would like to be added, please feel free to share your pictures, details and video with info@re3d.org!


Some of you have also asked how you can use Gigabot and/or other printers to support the local movements near our offices. For those of you looking to help with PPE shortages near Austin, Houston and Puerto Rico, details can be found below:

AUSTIN
There is a huge maker community that has sprung to action to support the 3D printing of PPE here in Austin and the surrounding areas.  One of the largest efforts is being run by Masks for Docs (masksfordocs.com), who are actively soliciting donated face shield prints, assembling the shield, and distributing them to hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, etc – all around the Austin area.  To help with this effort, re:3D will be collecting donated 3D printed face shields in drop-boxes at two locations, Brew & Brew and the Draught House Pub.
 
If you have a 3D printer at home or work & want to help out in the Austin area, you can access the Face Shield Design here. Recommended Print Settings:
  • PETG is preferred, but PLA is completely acceptable if you don’t have PETG or are not able to print with it.
  • 3-4 solid top/bottom layers
  • .3mm layer height
  • 5 Perimeters (AKA Shells or walls)
  • 0% Infill
 

Drop off boxes can be found at:
Brew & Brew
500 San Marcos St #105, Austin, TX 78702
The Draught House
4112 Medical Pkwy, Austin, TX 78756
 
 
 
HOUSTON
TXRX and the amazing maker-community continue to organize face shield collection around Houston.  We are donating 3D printed face shields as well as hosting a community donation box for makers in the Clear Lake area who are printing the face shields at home.  At our factory, the batches are consolidated and sent to TXRX for assembly and distribution to hospitals and first responders in the Houston area.  We’ve received up to 300 donations in 6 hours- keep it up!
More information and the design file is available here.
 

The Clear Lake drop off box can be found at:
re:3D Inc
1100 Hercules STE 220 Houston TX 77058
 
 
 
PUERTO RICO
The maker community, including a few Gigabots, have done a fantastic job collaborating in San Juan & beyond. We are currently collecting requests for those in need of PPE and sharing opportunties to connect with Engine-4 and Trede’s efforts in Bayamon, or other groups mobilizing. If you live in Mayaguez and would like create face shield to be assembled with sheets that have been donated to Engine-4, a drop off box has been established. A UPRM student has also initiated a Slack channel to share other needs. Email info@re3d.org for access.
 
 
San Juan face shield coordination:
Engine 4 Co-working Space: donation3dprinting@outlook.com
 
Mayaguez Drop-off: 
UPRM Transit and Security, Tránsito y Vigilancia:
Enter UPRM Campus through main gate, and guard will direct you

 

If you live outside of these areas and/or are seeking ways to contribute:

A Form to Volunteer is Available Here. We will be responding to inquiries this weekend and doing our best to facilitate introductions:)

Update: April 3, 2020

re:3D is working on a number of different projects related to 3D printing and COVID response.  Our Houston factory is helping to support two efforts.  The first is supporting the efforts of TXRX and the amazing maker-community organizing taking place around Houston.  re:3D is donating 3D printed face shields as well as hosting a community donation box for makers in the Clear Lake area who are printing the face shields at home.  At our factory, the batches are consolidated and sent to TXRX for assembly and distribution to hospitals and first responders in the Houston area.  Second, the re:3D design team is prototyping a custom face shield design, in conjunction with doctors from Texas Children’s Hospital.  The new design incorporates a pre-cut clear plastic face shield with a 3D printed holder/headband.

In Austin, re:3D is rallying the local maker community.  While there are a number of people working on the 3D printed PPE issue in the Austin area, re:3D is hoping to help organize these efforts.  The Austin team is designing hands-free door pulls and intubation boxes, and we will be releasing all of the 3D printable open-source designs that we have created, including face shields, door pulls and anything else we develop, free of charge. We are opening Austin community drop boxes at multiple locations where anyone who 3D prints can donate their COVID-19 parts. location information will be released as soon as it’s finalized.

In Puerto Rico, re:3D is supporting efforts led by Engine-4 on 3d printing face masks and ventilator splitters. Thanks to efforts by Parallel18, our Gigabot has been relocated to Engine-4 to print for this effort and we are hosting weekly calls for healthcare professionals, designers and makers to organize the community to support creating PPE unique to the needs on the island. We are connecting with every available Gigabot owner on the island to help them join the cause.

For anyone who wants to volunteer to help, please fill out this form.

Updated: March 25, 2020

To our Global Gigabot Family and Supporters,

We hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. The 3D printing community is a talented, diverse and compassionate arm of the creative tech ecosystem. We are energized and inspired by the mass mobilization of 3D printing to tackle COVID-19 head-on by providing protective gear to medical personnel, medical equipment to aid victims and filling gaps in supply chains. Every day, you are proving that this technology changes the world for the better. Keep at it!

re:3D IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!

We have been closely following COVID-19 developments in our areas and listening to the recommendations from local and federal authorities. The small yet mighty re:3D team has always been mobile and adaptable, and we are continuing our regular operations while keeping the health and safety of our team at the forefront of all considerations. Here’s how:

    • Your Gigabots® are being built and shipped on their regular schedule.
    • Your supply orders are being fulfilled with minimal delay.
    • Your 3D printing, design and 3D scanning services are moving forward as planned.
    • As an essential business, the Houston factory is open and fully operational. In-person visits are restricted to deliveries and pickups only to respect guidance on social distancing.
    • Meetups, walk-in tours and in-person classes are suspended until further notice.
    • Classes will move to online-only as format and demand allows.

$100 SERVICE CREDITS FOR EDUCATORSThe education landscape has dramatically changed in the last few weeks and as many educators gamely adapt to new methods of teaching, you have awed us with your adaptability, tenacity, and positivity. In recognition of your herculean efforts, now through April 10th we are offering to educators a $100 credit, with no minimum purchase required, for re:3D printing, designing and scanning services.

For all those schooling from home, we are extending a 20% off discount on all services (scanning, design, printing, materials testing) for any effort supporting distance learning.

Service quotes can be requested at re3d.org/services

HELPING THE EFFORT TO FIGHT COVID-19

re:3D’s Houston factory is equipped with a printer farm of large-format industrial Gigabot® 3D FFF and FGF printers, a metrology-grade 3D scanner, a full machine shop that includes two CNCs, manual lathe, drill press and cutting tools. This equipment and our team of 25 engineers, designers and technicians is available to fabricate equipment for healthcare providers that has been reviewed for viability and safety by medical professionals. Please reach out to us at info@re3d.org to begin coordination. We are happy to prototype any life-savings device for free in order to expedite review by medical professionals.

For those looking for ways to put your 3D printing know-how to work in the effort to fight COVID-19, we are collecting contact information to share further developments and opportunities to 3D print for those in need.

 A Form to Volunteer is Available Here 

Additionally, a great list of other projects has been curated by our friends at the non-profit Women In 3D Printing.

Stay Healthy and Keep Printing!

  ~Gigabot & The re:3D Team