Aug 5, 2015 | By Simon

For those of us who love space and space exploration but are currently earthbound for the time being, the next best thing is to have a professional-grade telescope that ‘transports’ us into space while keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground.  The only problem of course, has been in handing over the many thousands of dollars needed to purchase an automated robotic telescope that’s capable of providing clear images of the outer cosmos automatically.  

Thanks to recent efforts from James Parr, a London-based maker, we’ll soon be able to just 3D print our own high-powered automated robot telescopes right at home.  

Parr, who is the founder of the Open Space Agency (OSA), has been actively developing a downloadable, open-source telescope that can be (mostly) generated by a 3D printer, controlled by simple robotic parts, and that can capture images with a smartphone camera over the past two years: the Ultrascope.    

“Fifty years ago space exploration was the domain of governments,” explains Parr.  

“Recently things have changed again. We’re now seeing the emergence of platform technologies such as cube sats, additive manufacturing and low-cost micro controllers that are further driving down the cost of space exploration, finally allowing anybody to conceive and launch their own space program.”

Thanks to the efforts of Parr and his team, the OSA’s Ultrascope automated robot telescope kit is extremely cheap to produce and is capable of being assembled using a single tool.  Altogether - without the smartphone - the cost of building the telescope is just $312.  In an interview with Science Magazine, Parr said that the idea is that “you use one screw and an Allen key and then you can literally just get the parts and then construct it.”

Although Parr and OSA first announced the 3D printed telescope project back in 2014, they have spent the past year further refining the design and performing a number of beta tests.  They are planning on launching a scaled-down version (which features a 9-centimeter mirror) of their final Open Source Ultrascope design this upcoming October at the San Diego Maker Faire, while the larger (30-centimeter mirror) will be released soon after.  

Among other unique features of the Ultrascope include its ability 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.  Over time, Parr and the OSA team sees the potential for a distributed network of telescopes across neighborhoods around the world.  The resulting crowdsourced data can then be used to either look at specific locations from another location or be used for more advanced research projects.  

“Our vision is to enable a new era of citizen aerospace exploration through enabling [consumer space] technologies,” added Parr.

“(This is) part of a bigger vision of citizen space exploration enabled by open technology platforms.”

Those interested in being among the first to know when the Ultrascope files become available can sign up over at the Open Space Agency.  


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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