You’ve heard all about the 3D printed components for NASA’s telescopes and all about amazing open source projects (Open ROV, Open Bionics, OpenBiomedical and just about every project on the Wevolver platform) that are slowly, but surely, taking over some of the most advanced scientific fields. Now, that is all coming together in one of the most fascinating open source 3D printable projects yet: the Ultrascope robotic observatory.
The story was broken by Make and it involves the Open Space Agency (OSA) program, a community which is following in the footsteps of Elon Musk, arguably the Steve Jobs – as in the leading inspiration – of current and future generations of entrepreneurs. OSA is made up of “astropreneurs” who believe that the technology, skills, and industrial base to meaningfully contribute to space exploration are now within the reach of small teams of passionate individuals.
Basing its mission upon the emergence of platform technologies – such as CubeSats, additive manufacturing, and low-cost micro controllers – that are further driving down the cost of space exploration, OSA believes that anybody can now conceive and launch their own space program. One of the first elements in this citizen-led space program (which, perhaps a bit too hastily, bypassed the “commercial era” of space exploration) is the Ultrascope, an open source kit telescope that could reduce the cost of pro-level astronomy by an order of magnitude.
Ultrascope is a 3.5” mirror ARO (Automated Robotic Observatory) that is almost entirely 3D printed with all of the 3D files soon to be available to beta testers. As the OSA team states on their website, “This dream would have been almost impossible just 24 months ago.” The emergence of low-cost 3D printers and access to laser-cutting, paired with microcontroller platforms, such as Arduino, and the 41 Megapixel CCD Lumia 1020 – mean that a project such as this is now eminently possible.
Advances in space exploration have been slow because we – as a civilization – have been investing far too little, as profits do not yet justify the required investments. However, someone recently pointed out to me that the entire mission to Pluto cost about as much as one week of war in Afghanistan or Iraq. It may be an exaggeration, but I am fairly sure this estimate is not so far off.
Just as with 3D printing (distribute manufacturing) and renewable energy (distributed power), it might soon be possible for individual people to start building their own way to the stars: distributed space observation is the only way to start. By the way, in Italian, the word “Osa” means “Dare”. It is about time someone did.