“Our room was almost full, and there were people standing in the back of the room. They wanted to see what we had done,” said Bates. “We were lucky to be sponsored by Lockheed Martin, go to the conference and network with people in the industry.”
About 180 companies were represented at the 2015 conference, with an attendance of more than 4,500.
“Normally with metal optics you have stress on the optics from mounting it,” Smith explained. “This way the mounting is already done, and there is an optical mirror ready to go.”
Key challenges included reducing the mirror’s porosity and determining the best polishing methods.
“I think we are among the first to polish a material within a 3-D printer,” said Smith.
While the team was not able to perfect the process – the 3-D printer used to make the optical mirror created bubbles on the surface of the titanium during the manufacturing process – the project, “Optical Fabrication of Light-Weighted 3-D Printed Mirrors,” proved the feasibility of metal 3-D printing of optical mirrors.
“3-D printing has not made it yet with what we were doing, but I think 3-D will get to that point; we just need more time,” said Bates, who is now employed with Apple in California. Herzog is at NASA, and Smith is looking forward to graduating in December.