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Additive manufacturing to make freeform optics for space

Manufacturing News

A group of researchers and companies are using the iLAuNCH Trailblazer programme to develop and space qualify a new optical manufacturing process and materials for space flight applications and demonstrate it in a camera in space.

The University of South Australia (UniSA) with SMR Australia and VPG Innovation, part of Stärke-AMG, will utilise an emerging optics manufacturing technology, called freeform optics, that is now possible due to the emergence of suitable additive manufacturing technologies.

Freeform optics, such as mirrors, can now be designed and additively manufactured to take on complex shapes that can provide larger fields of view within smaller packaging sizes, all while being able to withstand the harsh environment of space.

The Innovative Launch, Automation, Novel Materials, Communications, and Hypersonics Hub (iLAuNCH) Trailblazer is a $180 million programme building Australia’s space capability through the commercialisation of projects.

iLAuNCH Trailblazer Executive Director, Darin Lovett said: “This project demonstrates what iLAuNCH is all about, taking a 2021 Defence Innovation Partnership (DIP) concept demonstrator that investigated the viability of Freeform Optical Components for small satellites – and moving it into production using Australian technology for real world application.”

One of the important requirements in the development of freeform optics is the ability to take the additively manufactured part and process it to the point that a mirror finish can be developed.

UniSA Senior Research Fellow Dr Kamil Zuber said: “We are developing an optical grade finish on additive material substrates for optical components for satellites.

“We will also demonstrate a coating system for reflective optical components for space applications.”

The Adelaide based project partners, advanced manufacturer VPG Innovation and mirror and camera systems experts SMR Australia, have long experience in traditional and additive manufacturing, and product development for automotive and defence sectors.

The additive manufacturing, moulding and vacuum coating capabilities of the partners enable commercial production of the developed product.

SMR Australia, Senior Design Engineer, Advanced Surface Technology Dr Bastian Stoehr said the company would be contributing its advanced injection moulding and coating expertise to the project.

Dr Stoehr said: “Over a decade of collaboration has shown that the synergy between UniSA’s research and Motherson’s manufacturing prowess leads to outcomes greater than the sum of its parts.

“The addition of Stärke-AMG’s innovation focus will ensure that this venture not only propels South Australia into a key role in space technology but also exemplifies the true essence of collaboration.

“Our combined efforts will redefine the possibilities in additive manufacturing and freeform optics, promising a transformative impact on the future of space exploration. As we contribute our , we are not just advancing technology but shaping a future where South Australia becomes synonymous with cutting-edge value-added manufacturing.”

Co-Founder and Group CEO of Stärke-AMG Al Jawhari said additive manufacturing had transformative power the potential to positively reshape the manufacturing industry.

“We are proud to be leading those efforts that will enable innovative satellite optics design and manufacturing for Earth observation and other critical applications.

“Together, we are enabling a future where freeform optics will redefine the possibilities of space missions.”


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