MakerBot’s Atmel-powered 3D printers have been helping innovators and DIY Makers transform their ideas into physical objects for quite some time now. Of course, it isn’t every day that 3D printed objects or components make their way into space.
However, when NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2018 it will carry parts made with the help of an Atmel-powered MakerBot Replicator2 Desktop 3D Printer. That is definitely one small step for MakerBot – and one giant leap for mankind.
“In 1993, four years after the launch of the Hubble Telescope, NASA began contemplating the next generation of space observatory. 20 years later, the James Webb Space Telescope has come a long way towards meeting its 2018 launch date, with MakerBot playing a growing role in the development process,” MakerBot’s Ben Millstein wrote in a recent blog post.
“The new telescope promises never-before-seen images of our universe using the NIRCam (near-infrared camera), the first space telescope camera optimized for near-infrared light. That means the Webb Telescope will be able to capture infrared wavelengths that cut through cosmic dust and gas clouds.”
According to Millstein, NASA enlisted Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC) to build the device, with the ATC team using a MakerBot Replicator 2 to get the job done. John Camp, a former mechanical engineer at ATC, led the initiative to streamline 3D printing for the NIRCam development process. After Camp acquired his first MakerBot Replicator 2, he was flooded with requests from engineers interested in (3D) printing various parts.
“Many of the systems for the Webb Telescope have to go through lengthy cryogenic testing to make sure the machinery holds up in the freezing vacuum of space,” Millstein continued. “MakerBot gave John the ability to test part ideas using 3D printed replicas, while the actual metal components being sent to freezing vacuum of space were put through their paces in a cryogenic test chamber.”
The Webb Telescope is currently slated to kick off three years of intensive testing and tweaking at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX before its eagerly awaited launch later this decade.
“Come 2018, we’ll be on the lookout for spectacular new images of our universe as they beam down from the Webb Telescope’s orbit – 1.5 million kilometers above Earth,” Millstein added.