This week’s selection is the TG89 Cube by Bart Smits.
This item is in fact a simple metal 3D printed cube, which you might think is definitely unworthy of a Design of the Week designation. However, there’s a lot more to the story.
This particular metal cube is, literally, in orbit on the International Space Station.
The cube was part of an art project undertaken by Moon Gallery, which collected 64 art pieces for shipment to the orbital station. The pieces are each limited to 1 x 1 x 1 cm in volume, and were mounted in an 8 x 8 grid pattern, as you can see here.
Smits, the founder of Dutch band The Gathering, wished to present three items within the small volume, including:
- A microSD card containing the band’s “How to Measure a Planet” album
- A magnetic strip with an encoding of part of the music
- A scroll of paper with the mathematical formula for actually measuring a planet
Smits thought he could simply 3D print a cube with a couple of slots to hold the three items, but quickly found that the accuracy was insufficient on typical 3D printers, even high resolution resin devices. For a project of this type, you really want to get the best possible quality.
Smits turned to Materialise, the Belgian firm that provides advanced 3D print services. After some discussion, it was decided they would 3D print a metal cube using the company’s high detail stainless steel material, and the results are shown at top.
The cube was included in the 64 item array and launched to the ISS this past February on a cargo flight. Aside from the aesthetics of having some top notch artwork on the station, the works are also being used for scientific experimentation. Materialise explains:
“The 3D-printed cube and the Moon Gallery are now floating in orbit in a ‘plug and play’ research module provided by Nanoracks, a US space services company. The free-floating artwork will act as test subjects so that the company can carry out precise object tracking using advanced cameras inside the enclosure. The artwork is aboard the ISS for ten months, with the Moon-bound version launching sometime in 2025.”
That’s right, there’s another version of the array being put together by Moon Gallery. This time the works will be sent to the Moon, whenever that actually takes place. The dates are unknown, but multiple parties are working on a lunar journey that should take place within a few years.
Materialise printed three of these cubes. One was used for the ISS version, another for the future lunar mission. The third is a spare, as is usually done for space missions.
The lesson from this story is that it isn’t always the design that makes an object amazing; it’s sometimes how it’s used.