Our version of a succulent planter.









In this mLab Tutorial, which accompanies our mLab Episode #11, we will guide you through the process of creating your version of a succulent planter inspired by the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative TESSERAE Project, a self-assembling space architecture project to make travel to Mars and other inter-stellar destinations a reality.

Through 3D Printing, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, electronics, and a little bit of crafting, we will show you how to bring your Interstellar TESSERAE Planter to life using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 and a 3D Printer.


Computer w/ Computer Aided Design (CAD) Software 
UV Light Version of the Interstellar TESSERAE Planter 
3D Printer
(1) 5mm UV Light
2-3″ Succulent Plant
(2) CR2032 Coin Cell Batteries
(1) Cup of Potting Soil
(1) CR2032 Coin Cell Battery Holder

On July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 Mission Crew stepped on the Moon and proclaimed “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Now, 50 years later, SpaceX has become the first private company to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), a critical step to creating a path to Mars.

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission, mLab decided to do something truly out of this world that honors mankind’s past and future in space travel in collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

We will break down in this mLab Tutorial, which accompanies our mLab Episode #11, we will break down how we created our Interstellar TESSERAE Planter using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 and a 3D Printer.

TESSERAE Rendering

An artist's depiction of TESSERAE at scale in space, orbiting around Mars, the Red Planet. The TESSERAE is illustrated as three seperate white TESSERAE hubs joined together by a hexagon plate in a catepillar like formation. The rendering showcases how the components of each TESSERAE self assembling in space. The faint flow of Earth can be seen in the upper left hand corner.

Artist's depiction of TESSERAE at scale, in orbit around Mars.
Credit: Artist Rendering of TESSERAE (TU Dortmund)

If you are interested in creating a different geometrically unique planter, we highly recommend checking out Becky Stern’s Geometric Planter with Drainage which shows you Step by Step how to create a unique planter using Autodesk’s Tinkercad and a 3D Printer.

Self Assembly of TESSERAE Planter

"TESSERAE assembly concept: Flat packed for launch, tiles released to swirl and quasi-stochastically self assemble, target geometry, constellation of multiple docked TESSERAE modules."
Credit: Ariel Ekblaw

Polygons, Pentagons, Hexagons, Oh My!

Now, let’s get started by sketching our design for our Interstellar TESSERAE Planter project.

Just like for our mLab Lion King Mask project, we are going to create a Sketch of our Tesserae Project using Autodesk’s Fusion 360.

TIP: As always, if you prefer an alternative, you can complete the next step in Adobe Illustrator, Rhino, Inkscape, or any other design software.

Using Fusion 360’s Sketch feature, we are going to create a 2D trace of a TESSERAE using a few Polygon Sketching Tools including; a Circumscribed Polygon and Edge Polygon.

First, let’s prepare our Workplane for our various polygons by creating a sketch.

Now we have our Workplane, let’s start off with creating a base for our TESSERAE planter by creating a Pentagon by selecting ‘Create Sketch’…and selecting the Polygon Tool; Circumscribed Polygon, which is a fancy mathematical term for each side of the polygon touches an inner circle of a certain radius.

This will allow us to make a Pentagon or a polygon with (5) sides and a radius of ~2.00” from the center of our Workplane.

Create a Circumscribed Polygon on your Autodesk Fusion 360 Workplane.

Next, we want to surround our Pentagon with Hexagons in order to complete the first layer of our TESSERAE. In order to do so, we will need to go back to our Polygon Toolkit and instead of selecting the Circumscribed Polygon, select the ‘Edge Polygon’ Tool.

Now armed with the ‘Edge Polygon’ Tool, we can select two points or vertices on our Pentagon that we would like our Hexagon or polygon with (6) sides to touch…and BOOM.

Create an Edged Polygon on your Autodesk Fusion 360 Workplane.

MISSION CONTROL, we have a perfectly aligned Hexagon!

Feel free to add additional Hexagons depending on how high you would like your planter to be.

Here, we are going to create two rows of Hexagons in order to ensure we sufficiently cover our plant guest in our planter.

[Get it…like a house guest in your house but the guest is a plant…in a planter. Nevermind. 🤭]

Now we’ve created our desired number of Hexagons for each side of our Pentagon, it’s time to ‘Finish our Sketch’ and begin the next phase of our Planter;

Creating our CAD Model.

Turning your Sketch into a 3D Model

In order to create our CAD model, we will need to extrude our TESSERAE Sketch into a 3D Model for our 3D Printer to bring to life (point to 3D Printer).

Once we’ve extruded our individual components, it’s time to start assembling our Hexagons around our Pentagon. In order to form the base of our planter, we need to take a quick math break…

Given our base is a Pentagon, we will need to rotate every Hexagon along each side of our Pentagon 36 degrees in order to create our first layer of the TESSERAE, then 72 degrees for our second layer and 108 degrees for our third layer…if we decided to build that bold.

Rotate Hexagon on your Autodesk Fusion 360 Workplane.

Make sure to use the ‘Align’ Tool in your ‘Modify’ Toolbar to ensure your polygons are perfectly aligned as this TESSERAE relies on precision.

Align Hexagons on your Autodesk Fusion 360 Workplane.

Once we’ve rotated every Hexagon along each corresponding side of the Polygon, you’ll notice we have a number of inverted Pentagon-shaped gaps between our Hexagon layers.

No worries, we can easily fill those in using Fusion’s ‘Loft Tool’, which is like duct tape for CAD Models.

We simply select the two sides we want to fill, go to our ‘Create’ Toolbar, select the ‘Loft’ tool and VOILA!

Now, we will continue to use the ‘Loft’ tool in order to fill in the rest of our gaps in our TESSERAE.

Use the Loft Tool in your Autodesk Fusion 360 Toolbar to close any gaps in your model.

Once we have our CAD Model of our TESSERAE Planter in Fusion 360, we can send it to our 3D Printer, a Dremel 3D20, to bring to life.

CAD Model to Interstellar TESSERAE Planter

A rendered CAD model of the Interstellar TESSERAE Planter. The planter has a gold exterior with an attached hexagonal shape that sits above the planter base, which houses the UV light operate by a push button.

If you have access to a 3D Printer; Congratulations!

You can make your Interstellar TESSERAE Planter CAD Model into reality.

If not, you can have your CAD Model printed at your local school, library, or maker-space with public access to a 3D Printer or you can order online and have it shipped to your home through VooDoo Manufacturing.

How do you export your CAD Model for 3D Printing? It’s simple.

In Fusion 360, you can go to the upper Right-Hand Corner of the Upper Toolbar and Export your CAD Model as a .STL File or ‘Send to a 3D Printer’ which you can upload to the 3D Printing Software which corresponds to your specific 3D Printer.

Export CAD Model as STL in Autodesk Fusion 360.

For example, we are using a Dremel 3D20 3D Printer, so we will be using Dremel DigiLab.

If .STL sounds like an alien format, don’t panic just yet. STL files are a very popular file format for 3D or CAD Models and its similar to exporting a Document as a Microsoft Word (.doc) or PDF format (.pdf).

Once you upload the .STL File to your 3D Printing Software, the software will transform your CAD model into a language that machines, in particular, 3D Printers, can understand.

So, in order to recap:

.STL = Language for 3D Modeling and Printing Software

.gCode = Language for 3D Printers to understand CAD Models

In our case, we used Dremel DigiLab, which allows you to upload .STL files and convert the file into the .gCode that corresponds to our Dremel 3D20 3D Printer.

Load STL for 3D Printing using your Printer's preferred 3D Printing Software.

Then bring your CAD Model to life by pressing BUILD!

In fact, if you have a bit of extra time, check out our mLab Captain Marvel Power Glove Instructable in order to create a pushbutton, CR2032 Coin Cell Battery, and UV Light setup for your Interstellar Planter.

Now, this planter truly feels worthy of being onboard a spacecraft. 👩🏽🚀

MLAB Inter-stellar Tesserae Planter, composed of PLA Filament from a 3D Printer. The Planter sits on a cork board and is surrounded by various types of decor including small, green pebbles as well as translucent red and clear pebbles. Inside the planter, there is a succulent plant surrounded by moss. The succulent plant is receiving nourishment from the UV light, placed in the hexagonal shaped lamp shade attached to the planter, with a push button to control operation. The background of the image is on a porch, with white fencing.

It’s been a very long journey, but you’ve created your own Interstellar TESSERAE Planter inspired by the men and women helping to make sure that mankind continues its journey to the stars.

When it comes to your TESSERAE Planter, it’s very important to customize it in order to make it your very own.

As you have seen so far, Autodesk Fusion 360 allows you to make quite advanced CAD Models using a variety of Sketching Tools and Techniques. However, you can take this a step further by customizing your Planter.

For example, if you want to take your TESSERAE Planter to the next level, try different filament colors and even decorating your TESSERAE using different succulent plants, herbs, or even decorative elements.

Whatever you decide to do, simply #BuildMakeLearn.

Plus, don’t forget to share snapshots of your creations with us on Social Media using the Hashtags – #MakeAnything #NASA #mLabBuilds.

A tall, black female with an afro featuring tapered sides and blonde tips is wearing a blue NASA space flight suit is smiling at the camera behind a wooden work station. On the wooden workstation are various plants (to the right) alongside various plants and versions of the Interstellar TESSERAE Planter (to the left). The space in front of the female is blank. The background of the image is the set of the mLab TV show, which includes (2) tall, white pegboards populated with a wide variety of tools and the Mbadika logo.