Bonestell Moonship

The Moonship from The Conquest of Space, by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley is a classic, iconic rocketship design from the 1940s and 50s.

I used artwork in The Conquest of Space, the Moonship chapter in Spaceship Handbook (Jack Hagerty and Jon C. Rogers, ARA Press, 2001) and a print of the Moonship drawings from Rogers Rocketships as references while designing a 3D version in Rhino3D.
The 3D model of the Moonship was then printed in an acrylic photopolymer plastic.

I started by scanning the plans from Rogers Rocketships into the Rhino3D workspace background. I scaled the background to match the model size in 1/350 scale. I could have also set the workspace to 1:1 scale, then scaled the results down to 1/350.

Generating the 3D drawings was a small and easy part of the effort required to produce the final physical result.
3D printing is still fairly expensive and the cost is tied to the volume of the object. A solid object will be much more expensive than a hollow version of the same object, with thin walls.

You can’t make the object walls too thin, or the object won’t print properly or it will be too fragile. 3D printers have limitations, based on the machine and the material you choose to print in, so you’re dealing with many variables.
I chose to have the Moonship printed at Shapeways. I’ve used their services before and they’re inexpensive and quick. To keep prices low, Shapeways has to keep the print times short, which means that their design limits are often stricter than those of the printers.

At the time I made the Moonship, their highest resolution material was the “Transparent Detail” acrylic photopolymer plastic.
Making sure that all the parts were within the Shapeways design limits and printable took most of the design time. When I was satisfied that the Moonship parts would be accepted for printing, I generated the .STL format files used by Shapeways, checked the file with Netfabb and uploaded it to Shapeways.
After a week or so, I got the Moonship parts back. Due to the limitations of the material I chose, the parts have noticeable printing artifacts.

The artifacts may be difficult to see in the pictures, but they’re the pattern of fine lines and ridges visible on the surface.
The only way to remove these surface artifacts and leave a nice smooth finish is by sanding the surface, then coating it with primer. This is also why I broke the Moonship design into a fuselage and fin, wings and separate fins. From experience, I know that it is hard to sand out the surface artifacts in the tight spaces between the fins and wings and the fuselage. The acrylic is also somewhat fragile and I wanted to reduce the stress on the very thin wings. When the parts looked smooth, I sprayed them with Mr. Surfacer, going back to fix any artifacts that I had missed during the first sanding.
Eventually all the parts were smooth. I glued them together with cyanoacrylate glue, gave the model a final polish, then painted it with Testors Metalizer. I printed the decals to match the drawings and gave everything a coat of Testors Acryl flat. The base is from an Academy 1/288 Space Shuttle kit. The figure (for scale) is from the Preser 89350 painted sailors set.

Updated August 5, 2020

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