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The International Space Station Is Getting Its First Printer Upgrade in 17 Years (mashable.com) 174

Lance Ulanoff, writing for Mashable: Somewhere, 254 miles above us, an astronaut is probably printing something. Ever since the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed its first residents in November of 2000, there have been printers on board. Astronauts use them to print out critical mission information, emergency evacuation procedures and, sometimes, photos from home. According to NASA, they print roughly 1,000 pages a month on two printers; one is installed on the U.S. side of the ISS, the other in the Russian segment. ISS residents do all this on 20-year-old technology. "When the printer was new, it was like 2000-era tech and we had 2000-era laptop computers. Everything worked pretty good," recalled NASA Astronaut Don Pettit, who brought the first printer up to the ISS. But "the printer's been problematic for the last five or six years," said Pettit who's spent a total of one year on the station. It's not that the Space Station has been orbiting with the same printer since Justin Timberlake was still N'Sync. NASA had dozens of this printer and, as one failed, they'd send up another identical model. But now it's time for something truly new. In 2018, NASA will send two brand new, specialized printers up to the station. However, figuring out the right kind of printer to send was a lot more complicated than you'd probably expect. NASA has turned to HP for its IT supply and needs. The agency requires the following things in its printer: print and handle paper management in zero gravity, handle ink waste during printing, be flame retardant, and be power efficient. HP, Mashable reports, has recommended the HP Envy 5600, its all-in-one (printer, scanner, copier, fax) device that retails for $129.99. The model has been modified, according to the report.
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The International Space Station Is Getting Its First Printer Upgrade in 17 Years

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    > However, figuring out the right kind of printer to send was a lot more complicated than you'd probably expect.

    Yeah i would expect it to be a lot more complicated than to turn to the most notorious supplier of "crapware", that breaks, or simply refuses to work because you didnt upgrade your service contract to Platinum or Plutonium, or even dared to use unapproved paper or ink...

    • Also a requirement : have a good Linux support out of the box.

    • Crapware? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BigBlockMopar ( 191202 ) on Thursday November 02, 2017 @05:14PM (#55478995) Homepage

      Yeah i would expect it to be a lot more complicated than to turn to the most notorious supplier of "crapware", that breaks, or simply refuses to work because you didnt upgrade your service contract to Platinum or Plutonium, or even dared to use unapproved paper or ink...

      Epson (the old printer) and HP (maybe the new printer) are both capable of building top-notch commercial quality printers. Look at the POS equipment next time you buy something in a store: Epson thermal receipt printers abound - and for good reasons, like their dot-matrix machines, they're pretty damned near unstoppable. And HP is HP. HP invented and popularized the desktop laser printer by strapping a Motorola 68000, a laser, and a spinning mirror onto a Canon photocopier engine. HP is the IBM of printers - like, for all their prowess in computers and typewriters like the Selectrics, even IBM isn't the IBM of printers.

      The ISS printers may benefit from the experience of mass-produced cheap printers made of lightweight plastic, festooned with Energy Star stickers, and getting relatively low product return rates at big-box retailers like Best Buy - all of these things are what NASA would want.

      But those cheap mass-produced plastic printers probably won't be getting stock firmware, Windows drivers [shivers in horror at the thought of using Microsoft crap on the ISS], and probably won't be getting stock ink or toner cartridges. They'll be getting something better. They'll be getting the "Yes, Sir, Mr. Mission Commander" Service Contract.

      "Oh, Mr. Mission Commander, you need to refill the ink cartridges with human urine? Here's how to disable the error message."

      1000 pages per month is nothing for any modern printer, if you have the toner/ink, and you're using good quality paper. Throw a few separator pads and transfer rollers onto the next replenishment launch, and you're good to go to print War And Peace anytime you want.

  • wow, $$$ (Score:5, Funny)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday November 02, 2017 @10:45AM (#55476049)

    $35 a cartridge, but man, $150M in shipping costs.

    The paper isn't cheap either.
    • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <[moc.loa] [ta] [hciretg]> on Thursday November 02, 2017 @10:52AM (#55476105) Journal

      That's what Amazon Prime is for...

    • no nasa hacked the roms to take refills / big tanked hooked to fake cartridges

    • by CAOgdin ( 984672 )

      Amazing success of the "new-HP" business model: The profit is in the INK, not the printer. At today's pricing, each HP 5640 page costs 16 CENTS per single-sided page in ink charges alone (and that's to the common customer; NASA pays a LOT more). But, of course, the promo features the cheap PRINTER price. What great advertising for HP, and many buyers will assume that, because NASA likes it, it'll work for them, too.

      What a crock...

      Precisely WHEN did integrity die?

      With the advent of advertising, I'll warr

    • $60M shipping if they use SpaceX
    • by thomn8r ( 635504 )
      If it was an HP printer it would cheaper to just replace the space station
    • Hah! I got by with only $140M for the cartridge and the shipping was FREE! Take that NASA!

  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Thursday November 02, 2017 @10:57AM (#55476155) Homepage Journal
    You know what the Russians did instead? "Used a pencil". I hate that meme.
  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Thursday November 02, 2017 @11:00AM (#55476175)
    is still probably better than our newest retail printers sold in supermarkets.
    • is still probably better than our newest retail printers sold in supermarkets.

      Exactly what I was thinking. (Wouldn't be surprised if it was an old LaserJet 4/5)

      Don't see how some shitty current-era all-in-wonder device is gonna replace that kind of stability, no matter who makes it. They really don't make 'em like they used to these days (on purpose)

      • You probably don't want a laser printer in zero-G. Toxic fumes and the potential danger of toner floating everywhere? Not an option.

      • I spam about it every chance I get, but my old LJ 4+ from 1994 is still chugging along with basic maintenance (toner, rollers, belt, etc.)
    • by TWX ( 665546 )


      Frankly I'm amazed that an inkjet printer was recommended. In my experience dating back to the first Deskjets in the nineties, the inkjet printers were always worse than their laser equivalents, and I don't see how they're getting around gravity-feed (or lack thereof) for the pickup rollers.

      I also get why they would seek to avoid laser, since laser can suffer from problems of uncontained toner getting out and airborne, which would be a real problem for a space station.

      The tech that I would have ex

      • laser printers use a lot of power, that's the only advantage I see for inkjet
        • by Strider- ( 39683 )

          Laser printers also require toner, which is extremely finely divided plastic powder. The very last thing you'd ever want to have in microgravity.

      • I don't see how they're getting around gravity-feed (or lack thereof) for the pickup rollers.

        Spring-loading the rollers from both sides. Having rollers inside the paper cassette.

        Floating toner dust would be way worse of an issue.

        Current thermal printing fades very qickly. Have you ever tried to save a receipt for longer than a year?

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      This is a particularly shitty model too. It has Wifi and direct internet access, doubtless insecure. According to Trusted Reviews, "for unfathomable reasons, HP's setup program offers to install Google's Chrome browser and toolbar, and like other printers it defaults to sending usage data over the internet."

      It needs an expensive supply of ink, and refuses to print when a single colour runs out. I can see the ISS going down in flames when they can't bring some vital service document because their printer ran

  • Couldn't keep restoring the ink on the ribbon using that WD40? Did they run out of spray cans or did the dot-matrix printer finally actually die?

  • It really does take a rocket scientist to keep a $(#@)%{@* printer working.

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Thursday November 02, 2017 @11:21AM (#55476361) Homepage Journal

    They're pretty much off the shelf except the connector has been changed to a twist-lock hermetically sealed connector (overkill in my opinion, but I understand why they did it - it's pretty much the standard connector on the station). They also have steel cages around the paper trays, mostly to keep the paper from floating off. I think they use Velcro in space to keep the thing planted, maybe magnets, but on the earth side that particular detail wasn't worried about in the training environment.

    Out of pure coincidence after I didn't even work there anymore, I wound up on the phone with one of the people from Epson who was on the project to get the old one going. He confirmed that it was pretty much off the shelf save for the few mods for low-G - such as the a fore mentioned cages. He was just as surprised to talk to someone who knew so much about the printers who wasn't at NASA as I was to actually wind up on the phone with that knowledge for the same reasons....

    FYI - working on those hermetically sealed connectors is a pain in the ass. They're not particular difficult in any one sense, it's that if you've ever worked with serial/parallel pin inserters and extractors it's pretty much the same, except the insertion/removal tool is flimsy plastic and tends to bend/break on a regular basis (and just try ordering new stuff on a low end government contract if you're not the right persons buddy - everything is drama in the power struggle between the bottom and the top). The standard tools work, but you run a serious risk of hurting the rubber the pin sits in and even if it's just for training purposes using the standard one will land your butt in a sling. If it were actual flight equipment, even if you did it in such a way you could prove caused no damage they would still rip it out and ding the contract as a whole for such things. I suspect if it actually were for flight equipment those people would have an easier time getting the tools than us ground people did. The flight equipment people were at the cape, us training people were in Houston.

  • My HP LaserJet 4+, manufactured May, 1994, is still running strong with basic maintenance. Slow to rasterize the first page @600 DPI, but still cranks ~12 PPM.
    • It should be noted that I'm not plugging for a laser printer in space, due to a variety of issues, more that "they don't make 'em like they used to" is a relevant phrase; it is completely possible to build hardware that is not crap, but the industry has basically decided that you *need* to buy a new printer once every two to five years, even if you barely use it.
    • I assume they don't want a laser printer in the ISS because of the zero-g environment. The toner dust might float away and get into electrical contacts or something.

  • when it's cheaper to buy new ink cartridges and keep the printer than it is to just buy a new printer with catridges included.
  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday November 02, 2017 @11:41AM (#55476521) Homepage

    Is it just me that would actually prefer slides?


    Then if you need it in an emergency, just shine a light (which you need anyway to see) through it onto any surface. Bam. Dense information, high-resolution, excellent preservation, low resource usages and you don't need fragile/flammable/soakable paper just floating around and in steel cages to print.

    Plus.. it's a bit more space-agey to just hold up the slide to a bulb to look at the information on it. Hell, you could even have a tiny chip in the exterior of it that stores the same information as the image itself, but digitally-readable if you DO still have a device that works.

    1" square of HP ink compared to 8.5"x11" or whatever letter paper size is in America.

    Surely, in an environment where every square inch and gram matters, a slide makes a better information store than paper?

    • I had never even considered this as a possibility, but it definitely has some advantages. You would need some additional optics to project it, however. If some sort of photographic process is available that does not require liquids to perform, you could even make your full-sized duplicates from the slides.
  • It's 10x the amount we print in a 15 people company.

    There needs to be something wrong there: two reams of paper is a lot of paper and weight!

    Do they really really need to print on paper? No e-ink?


  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Thursday November 02, 2017 @11:50AM (#55476603)

    HP, Mashable reports, has recommended the HP Envy 5600

    Note to NASA: Make sure you sign up for Instant ink "Get ink delivered to your door for as low as $2.99 a month."

    A hell of a lot cheaper than getting it Space-X'd up there.

  • I've been using my HP LaserJet 1100 Printer for about that long. Newer tech isn't always better.

    I know most printers wont work with now gravity, wonder what Epson 800 Inkjet printer, I always envisioned that they would be using some kind of dot matrix printer with reams of paper with guide holes.

  • The problem with NASA printers is that while they're pretty cheap, the new ink cartridges are about $1,000,000 each.

  • I can imagine the satisfaction one would get from the space version of the Office Space "bash the printer" scene. Throw it out of the airlock and use a telescope to watch it burn as it re-enters?
  • From LaserJet 4 to anything after means it won't work 1/2 the time.
  • They are upgrading their printer to an HP. In what universe is an HP printer an upgrade?
    Can they Please, PLEASE, re-enact the printer destruction scene from Office Space?
  • Now that HP printers are crippled with region restricted consumables it begs the question what region is the ISS classified as? The I in ISS is for International but the new HP printer policies don't permit consumables that can be used internationally. They do say there is a US and Russian side to the space station so I guess they can send up two separate sets based on those regions but of course if one printer runs out of consumables they will not longer be able to use the consumables from the other prin

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!