AM for SpaceOptics

iLAuNCH revolutionizes optics for Earth observation with AM

The freeform optics technology will be developed by the University of South Australia (UniSA), VPG Innovation, UNISQ, Stärke-AMG, and SMR Australia

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Through the iLAuNCH Trailblazer, the University of South Australia (UniSA) – along with VPG Innovation, UNISQ, UniSA, Stärke-AMG, and SMR Australia – will mature and space-qualify a new freeform optics technology and materials for space flight applications and Earth observation, and demonstrate it in a camera that utilizes additive manufacturing capabilities.

Satellite optical payloads are used to track changes in Earth observation images including environment, transport, and infrastructure through to defense Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). Satellites scan over the Earth’s surface and typically the camera payloads need to be wide and gather light in strips, similar to an office paper scanner. Glass optics onboard satellites today are limited in their view by traditional manufacturing processes.

An emerging optics technology, called freeform optics, is now available due to the development of suitable additive manufacturing technologies. Freeform optics, as their name implies, are free from any constraints of symmetry in their form and shape. 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.

“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,” said Darin Lovett, Executive Director, of iLAuNCH Trailblazer. “Through iLAuNCH we are growing a trained workforce for space hardware, and in this case, bedding down new manufacturing techniques for these novel freeform mirrors for satellites.”

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. Traditional surface-finishing processes are unsuitable for freeform surfaces. Additionally, there is the challenge of achieving a stable, durable coating in the harsh low Earth orbit environment.

The Future Industries Institute at UniSA has pushed the boundaries of additive-based manufacturing to develop a novel technology that is set to transform the way space missions are designed.

“We are developing an optical grade finish on additive material substrates for optical components for satellites,” said Dr. Kamil Zuber, Senior Research Fellow, at UniSA. “We will also demonstrate a coating system for reflective optical components for space applications.”

The project partners – advanced manufacturer VPG Innovation, and mirror and camera systems experts SMR Australia – have a deep knowledge of traditional and additive manufacturing, and product development for the automotive and defense sectors. The additive manufacturing, molding, and vacuum coating capabilities of the partners enable commercial production of the developed product.

“With Australia developing new space capabilities and small satellite platforms, it is at the forefront of those developments, including the rising trend towards nanosatellite platforms. The iLAuNCH Trailblazer, in partnership with UNISQ, UniSA, Stärke-AMG, and SMR Australia, is an innovative journey pushing the boundaries of additive manufacturing to revolutionize emerging freeform optics technology. We firmly believe in the transformative power of additive manufacturing and its 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,” said Al Jawhari, Co-founder and Group CEO, of Stärke-AMG.

“We are thrilled to be part of the iLAuNCH Trailblazer project alongside the University of South Australia and Stärke-AMG. 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 advanced injection molding and coating expertise to the project, we are not just advancing technology but shaping a future where South Australia becomes synonymous with cutting-edge value-added manufacturing”, said Dr. Bastian Stoehr, Senior Design Engineer of Advanced Surface Technology at SMR Australia.

The project will expand ISR capabilities for space satellites, and satellite platforms in general, through the prototyping and validation of space-grade materials, and durable coatings for optical, and structural satellite components using substrates made by polymer and metal additive manufacturing. In addition, the team will explore, validate, and test existing and emerging space materials creating guidelines and standards for space materials for satellite components to aid the Australian space sector.

Research
Composites AM 2024

746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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