Jan 25, 2016 | By Alec

The aerospace sector is becoming increasingly dependent on 3D printing technology, but usually not in a way that hobbyists can participate. Metal 3D printing and the huge budgets from NASA and SpaceX is what it’s all about, though fortunately one little known agency is dedicated to the more regular enthusiasts. The Open Space Agency is working hard to share aerospace innovations and abilities with the open source community, and they have just released the first 3D printable files for a smartphone-based telescope that lets you explore the night’s sky: the Ultrascope Explorer Plus.

If you happen to be a DIY engineering hobbyist with a passion for space exploration, Open Space Agency (or OSA) is one institution you cannot miss. Founded by London-based maker James Parr, they are dedicated to what they call a new era of citizen aerospace exploration. “OSA’s vision is to enable [this] through enabling the consumer-era of space technologies. We’ve challenged ourselves to develop products that leverage technologies that are, “off-the-shelf”, open source and easy to use, enabling anyone to have their own space program or support the work of others,” they explain.

As Parr argues, this is simply the result of technological innovations that are suddenly widely and affordably available. “Fifty years ago space exploration was the domain of governments. With no off-the-shelf technology or experience, everything had to be invented from scratch at substantial risk. After the end of the ‘Space Race’ the charge skyward was taken up by commercial entities who were able to re-purpose proven cold war technologies and profit from the telecommunications boom,” he explains. But not this is changing – platform technologies are emerging, such as cube sats, 3D printing and affordable micro controllers, that are putting the instruments for space exploration into the hands of the common maker.

Though they have been working on a number of subjects, Parr & team have been especially focused on developing 3D printable high-powered automated robot telescopes that can be easily replicated. This has grown into the Ultrascope, which has been under development for some time. And it seems like that moment is now finally here, as the first 3D printable files have now been made available through their website.

“The team has been working hard over the last few months to get the Ultrascope ready for global release. As they say, the last 20% is always the hardest and this project has been true to that. However, we’re now very happy to have a model that is ready for primetime - the next iteration in the Ultrascope - EXPLORER PLUS,” they cheerfully write. “This latest version of our low-cost robotic observatory has several new features that now enable it to be a useful citizen science tool for schools, makers and amateur astronomers.”

So what can it do, once it’s finished? The idea is that this telescope will not just enable you to check out the stars, but it will also be able to communicate with satellites to determine its exact location on Earth. With this information, the telescope is able to direct itself towards various objects in space including planets, galaxies, asteroids and stars automatically.  When paired with an internet-connected smartphone camera, the Ultrascope will also be able to take high quality photographs and upload them to a Cloud account that can be used for further analysis. The idea is that this could eventually result in a gigantic, powerful sky-gazing network that, through crowdsourced data, can be used for advanced research projects.

However, the current iteration even features a few design improvements when compared to the previous model. Among others, a larger mirror has been added to the design, to improve the telescope’s power, while an improved focusing mechanism makes image capturing much easier. The light path and overall assembly have also improved to optimize precision and ease of use. The electronics and firmware have also been updated with an stepper algorithm, joystick control options and even Raspberry Pi compatibility. In short, a slightly better, more fun tool for exploring the heavens.

However, it’s important to realize that this is all part of a staged release. You can fire up your 3D printer with these initial files if you want, but more support and files are set to follow soon. Check out the release stages above for more info. “We hope this update inspires you to start building your scope,” they say, and it would not at all surprise us if this amazing initiative is followed by dozens and dozens of projects worldwide.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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