Case Studies

Why ceramic 3D printed optics are the future for satellites and UAV’s

Why ceramic 3D printed optics are the future for satellites and UAV’s

3D printed ceramic satellites is a key technology to providing innovative solutions for optimized optical instruments. It meets the growing demand for lightweight optical instrumentation aboard space and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platforms. To prove the feasibility of its ceramic service, 3DOPTIC produced a plane mirror for a front-end laser engine (galvo-mirror for high-energy laser) and optical applications. Adapting the design for the additive manufacturing process and then 3D printing it.

In general, an optical system needs to satisfy certain requirements. Importantly, high stiffness to guarantee the stability of the line of sight. Secondly, high strength is required to withstand the harsh mechanical and thermal environments. To ensure optical performance as a mission component it also requires high stability. Traditional manufacturing of the highest quality is a multi-step and labour intensive process. Furthermore, a starting block of material will require milling, grinding, polishing, coating and integrating within the system. So, it’s a lengthy and involved process to say the least!

Conversely, 3D printed ceramics for satellites presents a number of clear benefits. Namely, weight reduction through a complex geometry, reduction of lead time and much lower material consumption. In addition, the increased freedom in geometry translates into an easier system integration.

3D printed -satellite optics
Satellite Optics

Eye on the prize

3DCERAM’s process allows the production of “custom made” ceramic optical substrates resulting in decreased risk during the manufacturing process. Making the part only requires 10% of the material when 3D printed, compared to milling away 90% of the ceramic to create a net-shape mirror.

This is why ceramic 3D printed optics are the future for satellites and UAV’s as AM enables optical system designers to explore new mirror geometries, including semi-closed back structures, integrated interfaces, and conformal ribs, opening up new perspectives for the next generation of instruments. These will increasingly include compact solutions with integrated functions (thermal insulation, cooling channels), a reduction of mechanical & thermal interfaces and integration of the optical function as part of the device’s own structure.

3D printing dramatically reduces the manufacturing steps (from 6 to 3.5) as a result of implementing the 3DOPTIC solution. Furthermore, integration of the interface can be done by simple gluing as the device is designed with system integration in mind from the very start.

Consequently, users decrease the risk of issues occurring during manufacturing, while opening up a new way of developing cooled optical systems, active optical systems or freeform optical surfaces. The net shape capabilities AM has also improves the quality of the integration/bonding process with increased accuracy.

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