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  • Ville Puoskari

3D printing for astronomy

Additive manufacturing technology is becoming ever more accessible to consumers and I would even dare to call it quite affordable these days. 3D printers have developed to a point that for 200€ or even less one can purchase a machine that can print various plastics like PLA, PETG or even ABS with great success. Automatic bed leveling and other advanced features that were reserved for high-end machines of the past come as a standard these days and as a maker of various DIY projects I find it a game-changer for my workflow. Currently I'm running two different printers, Weedo Tina2 that I use for smaller projects that can be made out of PLA. My other machine, Anykubic Kobra Neo, is mainly used for PETG printing of parts that are exposed to UV radiation or just need to be stronger. Printing projects for amateur astronomers But what can you print with a 3D printer, from astronomy hobby -standpoint? Just about anything! 3D printers can print various adapters, shims, end caps, holders, finder shoes, even complete telescopes! The opportunities are endless. I have had great success printing threaded adapters too such as T2 or M48 thread. Here are some rather simple projects that I've done in the past to serve as an inspiration for you to get started on your 3D printing for astronomy! Electronics case This project shows the versatility of additive manufacturing at home. A simple electronics project inside this case adjusts the temperature of a dew heater on one of my telescopes. I could have gone shopping and search for a case that would fit everything and drill holes to it. Instead I designed my own in Tinkercad that fits perfectly on my telescope and has pre-made holes of just the right diameter for all of the parts. The material costs is way under one euro and the parts were printed in approx 2 hours. I don't think I could have done it any faster by going out and searching for all the needed bits and bobs, besides as the machine is printing one can do something else in the meantime!

Custom SolarScout adapter This project would have been either really expensive or labor-intensive to make in any other way. Inside the adapter are multiple grooves and shapes that make the solar filter assembly stay in place. On the other side is a 2" aluminum adapter that is pressure fitted in the same assembly to make the filter easy to install on to a larger refractor telescope. This part receives almost daily use during the summer months in my solar observatory. It's printed from UV resistant PETG filament that seems to hold it's strength very well despite the constant exposure to sunlight.

Cable holder for ASI2600MM Pro -camera This print helps me route the cables from the focuser to the camera USB hub in my other observatory. It's made out of PLA as I don't need the added structural strength of PETG in this case. As the telescope is moving a cable snag in a remote setup is one of the worst things that can happen so I like to keep mine secured as much as possible.

Design to be printed Clever design solves most problems of 3D printing. If you are starting a project from scratch always avoid large overhangs if it's possible. Also feel free to flip the part around in your slicing software to find the best angle to print it in. This can also drastically improve the strength of the print - a great example of this is a printed tube. By printing it vertically the layers have a rather small surface area to melt to each-other. If the part is flipped 90 degrees the area is increased thus giving the part more strength.

The future of additive manufacturing for consumers I have been surprised how strong 3D printed parts can be when designed correctly. For extended rigidity and strength I think even metal-alloys are possible to print with consumer based machines in the future. Also multi-nozzle printers become more common and less-expensive allowing all sorts of interesting design-possibilities such as flexible joints made out of rubbery materials like TPU or water-soluble support materials. Multi-colored printing will likely become more popular and who knows what else will be invented in this already rapidly developing industry.

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