Paper Models

Making a model of something is an excellent way of getting a better understanding of it; and paper models are one of the most accessible types.  You just needs access to a printer, and to find a template that somebody has painstakingly put together for you to use.

It’s as straight-forward as print, cut, fold, and glue; but there are a couple of tips that I can offer:

  • Choose the right glue.  This decision will have the biggest impact on your paper modelling experience.  Ideally you want something that will give you some time to slide things around and position them correctly, but then dry quickly.  The examples on this page were made using UHU All Purpose Adhesive – which meets the criteria but can become messy if the nozzle starts clogging up – and Pritt All Purpose Glue – which also meets the criteria but can dampen the card a little.  Just don’t go for the cheap stuff, or you might or you might end up with a pile of moist card barely stuck together.
  • Choose the right difficulty.  Start simple and gradually increase the difficulty of the models that you create.  The number of pages can be an indication of difficulty, but a better measure is the size of the individual pieces (smaller = harder).
  • Choose the right card.  Even if they’re called paper models, you’ll normally want to print them on something thicker.  The instructions might tell you which weight to use.  If not, something like 140 gsm (grams per square metre) is a safe option.  You can use paper if that’s all you’ve got, but it might be a bit flimsy when you’re finished.


NEO Shield – Earth and Asteroid

This model was a free gift handed out by a representative of NEO Shield at SpaceUp UK 2014, and was what inspired the creation of this article.  You can download it directly from their website, and the purpose is to raise awareness of the dangers posed by Near-Earth Objects (asteroids, comets etc.).  Generally speaking, curved and irregular shapes are the most difficult to create as paper models, but these are straight-forward entry-level models.


Official Models

Several organisations provide paper models of the spacecraft that they’re involved with.  As you’d expect, NASA has a good collection of models for some of its recent missions, although older well-known ones are missing, and ESA has a similar collection.  CNES (the French space agency) also have a few models on their site, including the only official model that I could find of Philae – the craft that is accompanying Rosetta, and will soon make an attempt to land on an asteroid.

It isn’t just the big agencies though.  Space is opening up to smaller organisations, and many of them place models of their craft online.  Examples include the Turkish BilSAT, the Japanese Nano-Jasmine, and Aalborg University’s CubeSat.

Shown below is a model of TechDemoSat-1 from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, which was recently launched on a Soyuz rocket.  You can download the template from their site.  The instructions say to print on A3, but even at half the size on A4 it’s still quite a straight-forward model to make.

TechDemoSat-1 model from SSTL. Printed on A4 paper; background darkened in PhotoShop.

TechDemoSat-1 model from SSTL. Printed on A4 paper; background darkened in PhotoShop.


Unofficial Models

While official models are limited to a couple of missions, dedicated and talented modellers have created templates for almost any spacecraft that you can mention.  An excellent starting point is the Lower Hudson Valley Paper Model E-Gift Shop, with models from all eras, and despite the ‘shop’ part in the website’s name everything seems to be free (follow the side link to Models for Download).

One of the most comprehensive collections of ISS related models on the Internet is provided by AXM Paper Space Scale Models.  The site seems to be kept up to date with the latest missions, and most models are free.  There is a moderate fee for the full ISS model, but this includes an obscene level of detail – including space shuttle payloads – that would allow you to re-enact the construction mission-by-mission.  The detail does place these models are at the difficult end of the spectrum though.

rocket models next to pound coin

Orb-1 model (Cygnus cargo vessel and Castor 30 second stage) – from AXM.  Pound coin for size comparison.

Those are just two of the dedicated real-life space mission sites.  You can also find real craft mixed in with sci-fi models on general papercraft sites, such as Paper Replika.  Or maybe you just want a Robotech Veritech fighter to sit next to your Apollo command module.


Extreme Paper Modelling

If you want to see how far you can push paper crafting, then take a look at the Expert version of the Hubble telescope provided by Hubble Site, and UHU02’s Apollo lander.

Comments are closed.