AM for Space ExplorationMakers

3D print your own SOFIA flying observatory, courtesy of NASA

NASA has added a free model of the SOFIA observatory aircraft to its database of 3D printable files

NASA recently added a new 3D model to its database of space-themed 3D printable files. The latest addition is a miniature model of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, also known as SOFIA. The newly released model falls directly in line with our August Industry Focus on additive manufacturing and space exploration.

NASA’s SOFIA craft is an interesting one in terms of space exploration because, well, it doesn’t actually ever reach space. That is, the aircraft is a modified Boeing 747SP plane which is used by NASA to observe and capture images of the universe from the stratosphere. Impressively, the massive aicraft holds the title of being the world’s largest airborne observatory.

Equipped with state-of-the-art imaging equipment, SOFIA cruises at altitudes of up to 14 km (45,000 feet), putting it far above commercial airliners and above 99% of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere. This height enables the SOFIA to capture images and observe outer space more clearly than from the the ground.


“Researchers use SOFIA to observe star birth and death, the formation of new solar systems, planets, nebulae, black holes, to identify complex molecules in space, and more,” writes NASA. The aircraft itself as co-developed by NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

To encourage awareness of its SOFIA aircraft and to entertain space enthusiasts, NASA and its Ames SpaceShop Rapid Prototyping Facility have designed a scaled-down 3D printable model of the flying observatory. The print, separated into eight pieces, is designed at 1/200 scale and integrates a number of touches and details that makers are sure to love.

For one, the 3D printed plane comes with a removable upper fuselage section, various interior details and an interchangeable open and closed telescope cavity configurations. Also included: mini 3D printed telescope instruments.

Intersted in 3D printing your own SOFIA aircraft? You can download the 3D printing files for free from NASA along with a detailed print and assembly guide. While you’re at it, check out NASA’s growing collection of 3D printable models, which includes the Curiosity Rover, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Orion Capsule and many more.


Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault moved from her home of Montreal, Canada to the Netherlands in 2014 to pursue a master’s degree in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. It was during her time in Amsterdam that she became acquainted with 3D printing technology and began writing for a local additive manufacturing news platform. Now based in France, Tess has over two and a half years experience writing, editing and publishing additive manufacturing content with a particular interest in women working within the industry. She is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM industry.

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