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Lockheed Martin’s advanced technology center (ATC), is developing the near infrared camera (NIRCam) component of the James Webb Space Telescope for NASA. The ATC is using MakerBot 3D printers to fabricate many of the camera parts. It's interesting that a large company like Lockheed would choose MakerBots, but there's no denying they're a well established brand.
The telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, will orbit the sun-earth second Lagrange point (L2) which is about 0.9 million miles from the earth. In order to avoid the shadows of the earth and moon, the telescope will be placed in a halo orbit about L2. The region near L2 is a gravitational saddle point where an object can maintain a constant distance from the earth and sun throughout the year. Doing so only requires small periodic corrections.
The James Webb Space Telescope was conceived by NASA in 1996 six years after the launch of the Hubble Telescope. The new telescope will use the near infrared camera which can sense from long-wavelength visible to mid-infrared light with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution.
This makes it possible to see objects that would otherwise be obscured by dust and gas clouds. Cool objects less than several thousand degrees in temperature will also be visible because they cool off by emitting infrared radiation. Finally, the telescope will be able to see further into the distant universe because light coming from such far away objects will be red shifted which the camera is optimized to sense.
The use of aerospace 3d printing for development of this camera, was spearheaded by John Camp, a former mechanical engineer at ATC. In addition to the usual benefits derived from these printers, they also allowed engineers to make efficient use of their time by enabling them to test part ideas on 3D printed replicas of components that were unavailable because they were being tested in a cryogenic chamber. These lengthy tests simulate the cold vacuum of space.