First-ever 3D-printed space telescopes nearing completion
Telescopes are simple devices in theory, but getting one to work in space means an assembly of mechanical parts that is expensive, difficult to build, and hard to operate in the hostile environment outside the Earth’s atmosphere. To simplify things, NASA aerospace engineer Jason Budinoff is working on the first space telescope made entirely from 3D-printed parts.
The telescope is being fabricated using an additive printing process where the structure is built up layer-by-layer, by fusing a metal powder using a computer-controlled laser beam working from a 3D digital file. As each layer is created, more powder is laid down and the process is repeated. When finished, the excess powder is removed and the component is polished.
This process allows for very fast prototyping, reduces fabrication costs, and because it can create very complex structures, the number of components needed to make a space telescope are drastically reduced. Some structures, such as the telescope's optical baffles, can be made in one piece, which wouldn't be possible using conventional techniques. NASA says that using the technique, the first 3D-printed telescope will only take three months to complete.