Feb.10, 2014

European Southern Observatory (ESO), the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, has recently utilised 3D printing to manufacture moulds for the casting of two telescope components used for the MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

New VLT component created using 3D printing | Image credit: ESO

The first item is the structural part of a new sensor arm that was installed in the telescope to work with the MUSE instrument. The sensor arm is a metallic structure that is used to hold three flat mirrors, which feed light beams into sensors that control the active optics systems of the VLT and are used for guiding the telescope during observations.

The component was manufactured by German firm voxeljet AG using a technique known as investment casting, which has been traditionally used to manufacture components with very complex shapes, such as blades for gas turbine engines.

First a model is generated in software and its mechanical properties are analysed using standard industrial approaches. Once a suitable virtual model has been created, it is then printed out using polymethylmethacrylate, a type of thermoplastic.

Next, a mould is created from the wax-infiltrated plastic pattern, providing a negative of the original shape. This investment process then involves coating the pattern with a heat-proof ceramic. During the process the ceramic is treated and hardened, the wax-infiltrated pattern is melted out of the new ceramic shell, leaving a perfect die into which the metal for the final cast is poured.

The previous sensor arm was manufactured using beryllium, a lightweight metal that satisfied the requirements for the sensor arm. However, beryllium is highly toxic, and cannot be machined or modified safely once the component has been installed. For this reason, high grade aluminium was selected to make the final cast for the replacement.

The second component, a spacer for the VLT test camera, was manufactured by ACTech GmbH, another German company specialising in metal casting techniques. This component was manufactured from ductile cast iron and used a similar investment casting process, once its original pattern had been laser sintered.

3D-printing technology builds the form up layer by layer to achieve the final form. It could not reduce production time, minimise waste materials and save money for companies, but also, more specifically in this case, allow for complex internal geometries to be created which are otherwise impossible to achieve.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Anja wrote at 2/11/2014 9:04:56 AM:

Thanks Giuseppe.

Giuseppe wrote at 2/11/2014 8:44:03 AM:

It is not a new satellite components: these parts are required for the MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile http://www.eso.org/sci/facilities/develop/instruments/muse.html

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