MakerBot® Desktop 3D Printers empower innovators to turn their ideas into physical objects every day, but it’s not often that those creations reach outer space. That day is coming. When the James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2018, it will carry parts made with the help of a MakerBot® Replicator® 2 Desktop 3D Printer. That’s one small step for MakerBot, and one giant leap for mankind.
A New Generation of Space Telescope
In 1993, four years after the launch of the Hubble Telescope, NASA began contemplating the next generation of space observatory. Twenty 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.
Seeing Through Gas Clouds and Cosmic Dust
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. NASA enlisted Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center (ATC) to build the device, and the team at ATC used a MakerBot Replicator 2 to get the job done.
Warp-Speed Prototyping with 3D Printing
John Camp, a former mechanical engineer at ATC, spearheaded the initiative to bring 3D printing into the NIRCam development process. After John acquired his first MakerBot Replicator 2, he was flooded with requests from engineers looking to 3D print parts. “We printed over 250 objects within the first quarter,” said John.
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. 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.
Boldly See What No One Has Seen Before
Now that the NIRCam has been completed, the Webb Telescope will begin three years of testing and tweaking at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. 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.