NASA is using 3D printers to build imaging telescopes, and it’s expected to have the first fully functional, 3D-printed camera by the end of September, according to a news release.
NASA aerospace engineer Jason Budinoff, who heads the project, says NASA is the first to build something entirely from 3D printed components.
“As far as I know, we are the first to attempt to build an entire instrument with 3-D printing,” Budinoff said.
According to Budinoff, NASA doesn’t plan to use these telescopes any time soon, though.
“This is a pathfinder,” Budinoff said. “When we build telescopes for science instruments, it usually involves hundreds of pieces. These components are complex and very expensive to build. But with 3-D printing, we can reduce the overall number of parts and make them with nearly arbitrary geometries. We’re not limited by traditional mill- and lathe-fabrication operations.”
Even though these 3D printed cameras are more of an experiment, Budinoff believes they are paving the way for future 3D printed instruments that NASA will definitely use.
“I basically want to show that additive-machined instruments can fly,” Budinoff said. “We will have mitigated the risk, and when future program managers ask, ‘Can we use this technology?’ we can say, ‘Yes, we already have qualified it.'”