That’s right, I’ve reached the end and finished this amazing model. It’s been quite the journey and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of it. Some parts had me cursing, some parts were a breeze, and some felt a little repetitive. But I am loving the results. I’m remembering the post I wrote a few weeks back, and accepting the fact that my big solar panels don’t align perfectly, and that I can’t get everything to line up straight along the central axis of modules. I’m enjoying the fact that I conquered this model, and that it’s so cool and super detailed. Another thing, made with my own hands, that I can be proud of.
Oh, and it’s big. I can’t forget to remind you that it’s big. But, until you actually start building this thing, or more accurately until you complete it, you will probably underestimate it’s size. That being said, it probably couldn’t have been much smaller. Not if you wanted any details at all. And it’s the details that make this thing so stunning.
So, not a lot of background learning this time around, as it’s mostly just the S5/S6 and P5/P6 Integrated Truss Assemblies, along with solar panels and more radiators. And a few greeblies here and there to keep it interesting. However, thanks to the amazing Scott Manley doing an video on upcoming expansions to the ISS, I was able to find out that NASA had made a video showing the evolving form of the ISS as it was constructed through the space shuttle era. I wish I had found this earlier, because it would have saved me quite a bit of research time! Hah. Anyways, I’m going to embed it here, because I think it’s really cool, and might be much better at helping identify individual components of the space station (other than the docked craft). Note: it includes animations showing how components were rearranged during the expansions, but it’s end configuration matches up almost spot on with the Metal Earth model (only the Canadarm1’s presence and Canadarm2 location differ, as far as I can tell). You might want to set the playback speed a little lower, cause it goes fast.
Sadly, this lovely video made me realize that there was a teeny tiny mistake in the Fascinations design. The Harmony module is reversed in the build. The ports for attaching additional modules should be closer to the forward end, not the rear end. And, since the Canadarm2 is attached to the Harmony module at the forward end (per model design), you can’t reverse it to “correct it” without resorting to some creative uses of glue to attach the Canadarm2. I guess you could position the Canadarm 2 in a more traditional location, like on P2 ITS, though. But… I’ve chose not to do that at this time. Too much risk in undoing all the tabs so I can turn it around, and the reattach the Columbus and Kibo modules. Maybe someone else can do this and share the results with me at some point so I can appreciate it? Anyways, given all the details and accuracy to this model, I’m gonna give Fascinations a pass on this one “mistake.” Especially given the fact that the module could actually be reconfigured to be connected that way on the real space station.
Forming the giant solar panels is obviously the biggest part of this build section. And that means a lot of long folds, which can be treacherous. Thankfully, these do have relief cuts between perforated folds, so that makes it easier. But be careful! The various panels in the solar arrays are connected with thin support bars, so it’s easy to bend them where you don’t want them to bend. And the long central beam parts are frustrating to bend straight because they are just three thing strips attached along the long edge. Lucky for me, I had one of those bending brakes from AliExpress (which, for the life of me I can’t find and link to right now), and the thickness of the strips matched the width of one side of the break, so I was able to form it around one side in a U shape, which saved me from having some really wavy beams. I went ahead and formed almost all the beams at once, and all the big solar arrays as well. But I made sure to keep them in order so I knew which was which. I didn’t want to get mixed up and have some panels blue forward, and some brown.
Following that, there are a bunch of greeblies that get attached to the truss sections in this build session. Some of them are quite delicate and fiddly. The most challenging one (or four, technically) for me was part 103 – the one that starts out looking like an asterisk. I ended up bending outwards the four strips that make an X shape first, and then bending the two sides down on either side of the “ball” at the center. Not easy for someone with bratwursts for fingers. Securing these to the truss segments was also rather difficult to accomplish in a tight fashion, so I dabbed some UV glue on the tabs after securing them.
Also, when it comes to attaching the greeblies, I ended up doing them slightly out of order with the instructions. In particular, I chose to attach part 102 in every place it was used on a truss segment before attaching the other greeblies, regardless of the order indicated in the instructions. More specifically, I reserved parts 103, 105 and 107 to be the last greeblies attached. These are the ones that stand out farthest from the truss assembly, and if I attached them first, it would have made it harder for me to align, seat and secure the lower-profile greeblies.
On the topic of these greeblies… I want to call out my appreciation for the folks at Metal Earth again. These two truss segments could have easily been mirror copies of each other. That would be the easy way to do it. But easy isn’t their way. Because they pay attention to detail. As such, the set of greeblies found on either truss segment does not exactly match the other. I haven’t taken the time to verify it, but I’m betting that is because they are not identical on the actual ISS. Yay for going the extra mile!
Now the eagle eyed among you, possibly even only those that have already completed this model, might have noticed that I took some liberty with this final build session. Normally, the radiators on the back of these truss sections wouldn’t be very hard, much easier than the previous radiators. That’s because these parts are not designed to be shaped into the same zig-zag with counter-zig-zag support arms. The 360-view and the instructions bear out that it just says to simply zig-zag the whole thing the same way. Which seemed weird to me. I double-checked some photos of the real ISS, and found that these radiators do share the same support arm / deployment design. So… I decided that I would try to do it with the model anyways.
Unfortunately, there are not fold lines in the support bars on these, so I made my own. Sorta. I used my trusty hobby knife to introduce some creases where I thought it should fold. I lines up the blade with the fold between radiator panel segments and pressed down hard, which left a small bend / crease. I did this for every other radiator panel fold on the front side, then flipped it over and repeated the process on the back of the piece, in the locations I skipped on the front. This wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it gave me something to work with. Then there was much fiddling, much convincing, and some realization that it wasn’t going to work perfectly (especially at the base), but I eventually got it to work. Then I repeated it for the radiators on the other truss segment.
Finally, we get to the first scary part for me… attaching the solar panel arrays. I have mangled so many things on so many models just during handling while trying to attach something to them. So I knew this was going to be risky, especially with such big parts. And it did not go off without a hitch, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was worried it was going to be. I don’t know if I got lucky or what, but nothing got too terribly out of whack. I was confused, at first, as to why the instructions seemed to say that I should attach the end-cap solar panel arrays (parts # and #) with the paint facing inwards. But then I realized that it actually made sense. The entirety of the truss assembly is silver, so it would look weird for the endcaps to be white. It did throw me for a bit, though.
But the real scary, the real monster of this build session, was the final assembly. Taking the two truss segments, with giant solar panel arrays attached, and securing them to the rest of the station. This was a challenge. Because, as I’ve said many times, I have sausage fingers. And this model… this model has details and delicate bits everywhere. There are not a whole lot of places to hold onto the model without a high chance of my big fingers bending stuff out of alignment. I will proudly say that I didn’t once drop the station, much to my surprise. But things did get dicey. One solar panel array ended up at about a 40 degree angle to the others. Several radiators got misaligned. One of the greeblie hubs attached to the truss (I can’t remember what they are called right now, but those flat rectangles with boxes and crap attached to them) got bent over. But I didn’t drop it. And I didn’t crumple it.
However, that did make the final process of this whole build one that was not in the instructions. The final process is going over the model and straightening everything out as best you can. I have some saggy areas I couldn’t correct, some misalignments between modules (twistyness) and solar panels that don’t line up right. But I also have a freaking replica of the International Space Station that I, a software developer, made with my own two hands. And I am smiling a big goofy smile about it.
Thanks again, to the good folks at Fascinations for sending me this model to review. I didn’t let their generosity affect what I said. Honestly, I would have bought this model had they not sent it to me, and I would have written the same things. All in all, I spent almost 13 hours building this beautiful model, the last two of which you can watch below. Of course, I probably spent another hour or more knolling out the parts beforehand, but I don’t record that part so I never know how long that takes.