Built NASA’s Curiosity Rover 3D Printed Static Model

I’ve completed assembly of a 3D-printed static display model, released by NASA, of Mars rover Curiosity. It had a lot of details that were demanding when printed in PETG. In hindsight, I should have printed with PLA for fewer printing problems like stringing and overhangs. It is only a display model, it’ll just sit on a shelf and not stand out in the sun as Sawppy has done (and suffered for it.) Better dimensional accuracy with cleaner printing PLA would also help make the snap-together construction more effective. PETG is more ductile and so there wasn’t a “click” to announce successful assembly.

The demanding details were fitting for a static display model. Unlike its smaller sibling, this one is even poseable with corner wheels that steer and a robot arm that can articulate through the same degrees of freedom as the robot arm of the real thing.

With its emphasis on appearance, I was disappointed at the representation of my favorite feature of NASA JPL’s Mars Rovers: their rocker-bogie suspension. The first complaint is cosmetic: this model placed all three pair of wheels with the same track (distance between left and right wheels.) Curiosity’s front and rear wheel pairs actually have a narrower track than the middle pair, which I speculated was done that way so the suspension can fold up for flight. While a static model does not need to fold up for flight, it should at least accurately represent the layout.

The next complaint is a combination of cosmetic and functional: the suspension rockers do not articulate. Their angle is fixed relative to the body. On Curiosity, the left and right rockers are connected via the differential bar which keeps the two rockers in sync with complementary movement: if one moves up, the other moves down the same amount. But on this model, the differential is a surface feature and not a functional one, without connection to the suspension rocker.

On the upside, at least this model has articulation for suspension bogies. This was also missing from its smaller sibling. With articulating bogies, this rover model can at least pretend to handle rough terrain capability even if it lacks full rocker-bogie capability. In this picture, the middle wheel is raised by a piece of 3D-printed plastic I had on hand.

And finally, the suspension arms leading up to corner steering wheels have right-angle bends that are not an accurate representation of Curiosity’s suspension. I suspect this was done as a compromise to make these parts 3D-printable without supports, but it further reduces fidelity of this model.

There are several additional print problems with this first draft. If I were excited about this model I would reprint in PLA to see if it improves as expected. But given my lack of enthusiasm about representation of rocker-bogie suspension, I am content to stop here and look around for the next project.

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