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Mike

The Knight Shuttle from The Expanse 150mm

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The Knight Shuttle from The Expanse

150mm Printed Planes

 

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Original photo taken from The Expanse Wiki.

 

The Expanse began life in the minds of two friends, and was originally going to be a game, with complex backstory and a huge universe created in great depth.  It turned into a series of books under the pseudonym James S A Corey, and in recent years has been serialised by the SyFy channel for the first three seasons, after which Amazon Prime have taken up the banner, promising us season four in the new year (2019).  With a new book in the series also hitting the virtual shelves in December 2018, it should be a good 2019 for fans of The Expanse.

 

The Knight is a shuttle used by the crew of The Canterbury, an old colony ship converted into an Ice Hauler, transporting ice from Saturn's rings to its home base on the colonised asteroid Ceres, the largest known asteroid in our solar system at almost 1,000km in diameter.  En route back to Ceres with a fresh crop of ice chunks, the Cant receives a distress call from a ship by the name of the Scopuli, which they're required by law to investigate, even though they're none too keen.  A small crew take the leaky rust-bucket of a shuttle out to investigate, despite some fairly leaky seals rendering it a bit risky to travel for long periods without a space suit as a fall-back measure (which they do).  What happens next triggers a huge upheaval in the human diaspora, affecting the Earthers, Dusters (Martian colonists), collectively known as the Inners, and the Belters, who are the mish-mash people of the Asteroid Belt, who came from many races and origins to work in space, and are the underdogs of the solar system with a huge chip on their shoulders for that reason.  Most of the crew of the Knight then go on to be the main protagonists of the series, taking them through the middle of many of the tumultuous events that take place as a result of humanity finding the Protomolecule, and learning that we are not alone in the universe.

 

Hopefully I've not given away any particularly egregious spoilers, but if you haven't read the books or watched the TV show, I would heartily recommend both.  Reading the first book Leviathan Wakes will give you a head start on the first season of the TV show, which has a lot of exposition to go through, and can feel a bit like overload unless you're paying rapt attention.

 

 

3D Printing

Firstly, a little background on 3D printing.  This method of Rapid Prototyping (RP) has been around for some years now, and has steadily improved during that period, with the quality of the output improving and the cost of the printers falling all the time.  The cheapest printers melt plastics and lay down thin layers upon a platform, and it is the thickness of these layers that dictates the quality of the printed part.  The cheaper ones end up looking like they have been made from tiny Lego bricks, while the top-line printers are getting so good that the layers are almost invisible to the naked eye.

 

Stereo-lithography is the other primary method, and it is this that PrintedPlanes use to create their models.  It uses a vat of liquid photopolymer that as the name suggests cures when it is exposed to a strong light source.  Each layer is created by shining a laser into the vat, curing the polymer and creating a layer.  The build platform drops a fraction and the process begins again until you have a completed object.  In order to support the part during and after fabrication, supports have to be engineered into the design, or your precious object that has taken hours to print could deform, or worse, collapse into a heap of semi-rigid goo.  The finished article is removed from the liquid goo phase and drained of excess polymer, which is important, as large parts are printed hollow, so must have drain holes appropriately placed.  They are also cleaned with Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) during the drying period, as the polymer needs to cure more thoroughly before it is ready for the customer.

 

The Kit

This particular kit consists of only one part, so you could argue that it isn't really a kit, but I think it still deserves the title, as there is prep-work and you can add additional detail to it if you are so minded.  It arrived cocooned in a roll of bubble-wrap inside a sturdy cardboard box, around a week after I had placed my order.  Why does it take so long?  Printing in high resolution can take many hours and even days for large, complicated prints, after which there's the cleaning and drying period.  As long as you're ready for that waiting period in this impatient modern world, you'll be fine, and very happy with what arrives.  On unwrapping the cocoon, the model is unveiled and has an overall pale cream finish, feeling slightly rubbery to the touch, and a little sticky in places (see the engine bells).  The flexibility is due to the polymer needing more time to cure completely, and the stickiness is due to tiny quantities of uncured polymer leaking from drain holes on occasion. 

 

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I now have three of these models (all from The Expanse), and they need a good clean with IPA to get rid of any stickiness, and to remove what I call the "dead skin".  This is the polymer that was kind of cured due to its proximity to the laser, but not quite part of the model, so needs to be removed in order to get the best surface for painting.  For smaller objects I put them in IPA in my ultrasonic cleaner, but for larger ones, a douse in IPA and scrub with an old toothbrush should do the trick.  I use an old electric toothbrush for this, and if you're in an enclosed area, wear a suitable respirator to protect you from the fumes of the IPA.  Once this is done, allow the part to dry for a few more days or weeks, until it feels stiff and unbending.  It's easier to feel the difference than explain it, and you'll be able to tell when it is ready.

 

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When the model is completely ready for paint, I use a black primer by Alclad, as it has a suitable contrast with the polymer so you can see where you've painted pretty easily, and it sticks very well.  I have the Canterbury in primer as I write this, and having rubbed it down once, I can confirm that there are very little in the way of irregularities in the surface, other than the small "pips" where the supports have been removed.  The layers are very neatly arranged, with only fractional shifts that are easily covered by a light sanding and another coat of primer, and far superior to the plastic deposition method in my limited experience with other printing mediums.  As to the supports, you can save a few shekels by removing them all yourself, or pay to have the external ones removed before it leaves them.  Depending on what you choose to buy first, there may be some internal supports still in situ, and you can remove those quite easily with finger pressure, pliers, or a pair of nippers, cleaning up the pips as you go, or leaving them until they are more readily seen after the first coat of primer – you get a bit of snow blindness looking at the whiteness of the model, and they can be quite hard to see until you get a bit of colour on it.

 

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The Canterbury in its first-coat of primer after preparation (with a tiny Rocinante from another manufacturer that's not as good as it looks in this picture)

 

Conclusion

I have been using 3D printed parts increasingly for a few years in small ways, initially relying on the plastic deposition methods, which have almost always left a bit to be desired in the layer thickness.  Having initially encountered stereo-lithography with the Cant from PrintedPlanes, I prefer this method at least until the layer thickness of the former can rival the quality of the liquid-goo-and-lasers method.  Being able to say "liquid goo" is a bonus, but all joking aside, the clean-up process that I'll be undertaking with the Knight might be a bit messy, but it's infinitely preferable to endless rounds of priming and sanding, during which detail is bound to be lost. 

 

Going forward, I'm looking forward to PP widening their range yet further.  If you look around their site you can see all manner of goodies from missiles to planes, cars and tanks in various scales, some of which may lend themselves to gaming, while others are suitable for modellers.  If 3D printing hasn't yet come of age I would suggest that it's less than a birthday away, so if you want to lay your hands on models that are otherwise unavailable, there's no real reason why you shouldn't take the plunge now, as long as you familiarise yourself with the preparation process.

 

Incidentally, while this review relates to the 150mm model of the Knight shuttle, you can also get a 100mm version for a lower price if you want to keep things compact and bijou.  If size if no object I would incite you to pick up the 300mm model of the Rocinante – it's awesome!  You can see a pic of the Roci and more pics of the Cant on my thread here.

 

Extremely highly recommended.

 

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Review sample courtesy of

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So will you be getting a 'Razorback':shrug:

 

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If so let me know.....I'd probably be quite tempted to join you on that one.  :coolio:

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Tempting, but the decals would be tricky. I think I can manage to make some up for the existing stuff using my Alps, if I can make space to set it up, but all those dots! :hypnotised:

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