For a decade China has been developing additive manufacturing (3D printing) for advanced space flight. Since 1998 Professor Cui Guoqi, director of the Rapid Prototyping Research Center in Tianjin University, has been 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, he explained: “During launch and landing these specially designed seats… protect the astronauts, especially their backbones, from being hurt by the jolt during acceleration. Every seat [is] tested by the astronaut in person and undergo[es] adjustments to make it more precise.”
From data capture to production, each seat takes about three months to design and manufacture. The high levels of personalisation and customisation of ergonomics made possible by 3D printing make it the perfect choice for crafting a body platform that supports the frail biological structure in the face of the massive forces experienced during a lift off.
Here follows a brief history of the Chinese Shenzhou missions for space nerds / the exologically inclined:
- Shenzhou 1 – November 19, 1999 – unmanned test flight
- Shenzhou 2 – January 9, 2001 – carried animals
- Shenzhou 3 – March 25, 2002 – carried a test dummy
- Shenzhou 4 – December 29, 2002 – carried a test dummy and several science experiments
- Shenzhou 5 – October 15, 2003 – 14 Earth orbits carrying Yang Liwei
- Shenzhou 6 – October 12, 2005 – five day mission with Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng
- Shenzhou 7 – September 25, 2008 – three man crew with Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming, and Jing Haipeng; spacewalk performed by two crew members
- Shenzhou 8 – October 31, 2011 – unmanned mission carrying 2 test dummies, which rendezvoused and docked with Tiangong-1.
- Shenzhou 9 – June 16, 2012 – three-person crew (one female) with Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, docked with Tiangong-1. The spacecraft returned to earth on 29 June 2012 with three crew members appearing in good health.
- Shenzhou 10 – June 11, 2013 – three-person crew (one female) with Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping, will dock with Tiangong-1 after Shenzhou 9.
Images Courtesy of Wang Qing