Pennies to Heaven

ISE 3D-prints the coin that will launch into space

Using 3D printers, ISE Professors Ron Aman and Tim Horn created the official NC State University coin that was aboard the new Orion spacecraft. The unmanned test flight launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 4, 2014.

Terri Lomax, Former Vice Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Economic Development at NC State and member of the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), contacted ISE professor Richard Wysk about creating the coin. “We accepted the challenge of creating an original coin for Orion’s Exploration Flight Test,” said Wysk. “Because of the accelerated timetable, we knew using our EBM machine was the best option.” EBM, or Electron Beam Melting machines, use a high power electron beam to 3D print metal objects. The ISE Department is renowned for having the world’s first EBM machine.

Wysk turned the project over to two of the department’s experts in 3D printing, Research Assistant Professors Ron Aman and Tim Horn. “The coin is made of a titanium alloy. The same kind of alloy used in aerospace and biomedical applications,” said Aman. With the use of Materialise’s Magics software, Aman and Horn were able to create a 3D image of the University Seal. This new image was sent to the EBM machine. “We used a torch to oxidize and change the color of the surface of the coin and then polished the raised surfaces to give the coin a unique look,” said Aman.

Also joining the coin into space is a Captain Kirk action figure donated by captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. A dinosaur fossil from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and a DeLorean model from the Back to the Future films are making the journey as well.

Special thanks go to the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) for presenting NC State and its other founding universities with the opportunity to be a part of the experience. The Orion team plans to include the coin in a one-of-a-kind commemorative framed montage that will be presented to NC State in early 2015.