NASA Pragmatism Project: Top 5 specifications, top 5 constraints



For my final design project, I am choosing to design a concept for a long transit spacecraft in the style of what I like to call ‘NASA Pragmatism’, an aesthetic that is driven by functional design for space, but ends up having a very distinct and recognizable look nonetheless.

To summarize the entire process briefly: I am first doing a hefty chunk of research on what technical systems and specifications would be needed to get a manned spacecraft to far destinations, such as Mars, and having that research dictate how the spacecraft will look. I am starting with hand sketches and simple layout diagrams of the ship and it’s contents, and then turning those designs into digital models via solidworks. I will then use my 3d printer to turn those files into physical objects, and then assemble all the individual parts together. Finally (and probably actually right before assembly) I will finish and paint the model to match the traditional color scheme of other NASA projects.

Interior view of one of the modules


The top 5 most important specifications that I am hoping to achieve with my project:

1.The design looks realistic, or plausible

What captivates me so much about modern space travel, spacecraft, spacesuits, etc. is that even though they are state of the art technology, none of it is science fiction and a lot of it follows common sense after a little bit of digging. In the same vain, I want my project to borrow as little as possible from science-fiction.

2. The project should be modular, and be able to be disassembled and reassembled in different configurations

Just like a real space station/ship (so this kinda adds to the above spec as well), it is assembled in parts and can be reassembled at will. I am using a locking twist feature to connect the segments, just like nerf gun attachments if you have ever seen them. This is going to be the dynamic feature of my project

3. 3D printed

I just recently got a 3D printer for the first time ever in my life, and I LOVE IT! I have always been super fascinated by 3D printing, and have been using it for a little while now. It is easy to print little one-off projects, but then that is just limiting yourself to the size of the print bed. Really, any sized object can be made with a 3D printer if you have a good enough assembly plan.

4. Large Size

Since I want to design the interior contents of the spacecraft as well as the exterior, and spacecraft are absolutely massive, and the 3D printer can only print at such a small resolution, this in turn means my project is going to be pretty big. This also makes sense that that this is the final project of the course. Currently the biggest dimension of the project is length, it’s designed to be around 3ft in length!

5. Section view

Finally, I want to be able to remove the ceiling of the components of the spacecraft to be able to view the inside of the spacecraft. Since I am putting in all the work of what goes into designing a spacecraft and its contents, might as well be able to see it!

The top 5 most constraining aspects of my project:

1. Print bed size

I am designing and printing this project in parts, but even the individual parts are too big to be printed as one part. This means I am limited in progress by the size of the print bed, but thankfully I have started very early to counteract this. The TAZ Workhorse 3D printer is one of the larger consumer 3D printers, so that also helps to print the large parts needed for this project.

2. Print time vs. risk

While it is so very handy that 3D printing is autonomous, and that I can literally do multiple things at once working on it, these large prints have very long print times. As I write this, I have a part printing that will take about 28 hours total. Additionally, due to statistics, the longer a print goes on, the larger chance a print could fail, wasting all the time it took. Thankfully with my own personal 3d printer I can print during all hours of the day, but sometimes print failures can cause larger problems that take hours even days to fix. Eeek.

3. Printer operability

Going into the last restriction a bit more, a printer failure can be bad news. While 3D printers are absolutely wonderful machines, they can be extremely finnicky and hard to troubleshoot. Especially if you are new to owning a 3D printer, like me. Printer problems often have multiple possible culprits with little or no way to tell which is the cause, and similarly multiple ways to solve problems. Some work some don’t. Some solutions that worked before won’t work again, and vice versa.

4. Huge design scope

With the research, CAD, 3D printing, and coloring of a very large physical artifact that has interior objects, this project is huge. Additionally it is even huger since I am the only one working on it! Thankfully this is totally a passion project, and working on it is relatively fun. Time is my biggest enemy for this project, I will constantly have to be working on it, even if it’s little by little. I was fortunate to get a good head start, but I bet I will still be cutting it close.

5. Design technicality

The dynamic aspects of the project, the modularity and the section views make the design challenging, only amplified by the limitations of the 3D printer. Making sure I design everything to work properly and be possible to print can be a challenge at times, but I have already experienced great success in my ‘testing’ of smaller prints.


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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Vincent Tang
    April 5, 2024 4:58 pm

    I know what you’re talking about with the Nerf guns, so implementing that into your project will keep them secure. Out of curiosity, how big are you planning for your project to be? You mentioned you’ve already started on the fabrication, and given the roughly 11x11x11-inch build volume (according to the internet), the model must be substantial in size.


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