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ASU techies create 3-D model of mysterious, metal asteroid Psyche

Ahead of NASA mission, ASU 3-D print lab makes model of Psyche metal asteroid.
March 15, 2017

NASA mission seeks to explore what scientists believe is the core of a failed planet

Exploring new worlds requires vision and some well-educated guesses; visual cues are nice, too.

The asteroid Psyche is a new world that will be explored by a group of space scientists led by Arizona State University. The project, which received funding from NASA in January, is underway and one of the early steps in the process has been to build a model of the target asteroid. In this case, the model is 3-D print of what Psyche might look like.

The model will fill an educational role, said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the principal investigator of the Psyche mission and the director of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

“It is really helpful to have visuals for people to interact with when we are talking about the mission,” she said. “It will be easier to have people look at this while we try to explain what we might find when we get there.” 

2030 rendezvous

Getting there won’t begin until 2023, when the mission is scheduled to launch. It will take seven years for the spacecraft to reach Psyche, which is located in the outer part of the main asteroid belt roughly 280 million miles from the sun. Psyche is large for an asteroid, about 130 miles in diameter, roughly the size of Massachusetts, and is thought to be the stripped core of a failed planet. That fact makes Psyche an intriguing piece of planetary debris to inspect.

“This is the first time humans will be able to explore a planetary core,” Elkins-Tanton said. “The mission will help us gain insights into the metal interior of all rocky planets in our solar system, including Earth.”

Beyond that, little is known about the mysterious Psyche. So how did they come up with a shape for it and its surface features to be incorporated into this model?

Elkins-Tanton said the fundamental shape of the model “is based on previously obtained radar returns. Its surface features, like how the craters look, are based on scientific hypotheses, because there are no images of its surface.”

A 28-pound birthday cake

In 3D Alley, a portion of the makerspace in the Technology Center on the Polytechnic campus, engineering associate Eddie Fernandez sets up the Objet 350 3-D printer for the Psyche job.

The Objet 350 is not the largest printer there, but it’s the most accurate with a resolution of 0.004 inches.

“This is a cool project,” he said. “It’s definitely different from what I usually get to print, and it has a greater amount of detail.”

Once everything is set, he begins the process, a continuous print that will run for 86 hours and 43 minutes. It will print the asteroid and its exterior supporting material horizontally, slice by slice. The printer head will traverse the printing table 6,619 times, stopping only periodically to clean its heads, laying down a layer of print material and immediately curing it.

“It’s going to be about as big as a basketball but as heavy as a bowling ball,” Fernandez said.

Sure enough, when the print completes, it yields what basically looks like a 28-pound birthday cake.

After the print, Fernandez takes the model to a cleaning station where he removes outer support material and uses water jets to clean the intricate surface of the miniature Psyche. After that a three-hour sonic bath removes any remaining support material, yielding a pristine asteroid.

The model matches artist renditions, Elkins-Tanton said. She and artist Peter Rubin worked for a couple of years on the computer animation. Plans are to paint the model, bringing it to another level of realism.

“The look of the model is based on science, based on scientific hypotheses of what it might look like and the radar returns we have,” Elkins-Tanton said, anticipating the first close-up inspection of the real thing.

“It’s going to surprise us,” she added. “I’m pretty darn sure of that.” 

A time-lapse of the 3-D printing process, which took over 4 days. Shown here in 24 seconds.

Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


ASU Gammage celebrates renovations with ribbon cutting ceremony

March 15, 2017

Now, the longest lines at ASU Gammage are reserved for the actors.

After years of fundraising, planning and construction, the newest additions to ASU’s iconic auditorium — 88 women’s restroom stalls and two elevators — opened March 14, allowing patrons to enjoy greater access and comfort in the venue. Ribbon Cutting Donors help cut the ribbon, marking the grand opening of the new elevators and restrooms at ASU Gammage. Download Full Image

“Good afternoon and welcome to the beginning of a new era at ASU Gammage,” began Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and associate vice president of cultural affairs for ASU during her speech at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “So many people have come together to make this day possible ... As a result, we are able to fulfill a longtime dream to give this glorious building the restrooms and elevators it has needed.”

As part of the organization’s Elevate and Alleviate Campaign to upgrade the auditorium and sustain it for future generations, ASU Gammage, its donors and the community raised over $9 million.

Compared to the original structure built in 1964, the renovations are barely detectable from the outside.

Beau Dromiack, design director with RSP Architects, carefully studied the building before designing the new components, he said. He hoped to highlight the upgrades while staying true to legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s original design.

On each side, framed by the building’s two long arms, brick structures enclose the venue’s new bathroom facilities. Although the bricks match those originally used to construct the auditorium, they are arranged in a rippling pattern to create a shifting maze of shadows as the sun moves throughout the day.

Although beautiful, ASU Gammage’s key objective for the renovations was functionality. The women's restrooms are designed to maximize efficiency, minimize sound disturbances and decrease patrons’ wait-times.

Each sink is equipped with a handbag hanger and paper towel dispensers are peppered between each pair of sinks. Also, extra mirror space is available between sinks for those who are not washing their hands. Each vanity is equipped with state-of-the-art, custom lighting, and the toilets and ceiling are optimized for sound reduction.

Previously, patrons could only access the auditorium’s orchestra, grand tier and balcony via ramps or stairs. Now, two elevators complete with ASU Gammage elevator attendants will help increase accessibility.

Thanks to contributions from over 1,500 donors, including significant investments from ASU Gammage, the classic auditorium is revitalized for many more years of world-class performances.

“I am happy to see so many faces of friends and people with whom we have made a family at ASU Gammage and happy that we have been able to forge a new future for ASU Gammage-- a future where we are able to better meet the needs our patrons,” continued Jennings-Roggensack.

Donors, VIPs and ASU staff celebrated the completion of the project with tours of the renovated areas, and a VIP dinner on the auditorium’s promenade before opening night of "Finding Neverland."

“For more than two decades I’ve had this dream of making sure ASU Gammage was around for future generations and these building additions along with our continued investment into the facility will assure that for many years to come,” Jennings-Roggensack said.

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage