To reduce the design cycle time and cost required for optimizing long focal length optical systems within the constraints of 12U and smaller CubeSat platforms, a scalable, low-cost additive manufacturing (AM) platform, capable of fabricating high-performance freeform three-dimensional (3D) gradient index (GRIN) optics will be demonstrated. The freeform 3D-GRIN optics are capable of implementing high order functions, including optical power and aberration correction, within a single achromatic monolithic element, making them ideal for reducing the size and weight of dioptric and catadioptric optical systems. The complex optical functions embedded in the freeform 3D-GRIN optical elements reduce the manufacturing tolerance requirements of custom freeform or aspheric mirrors or allow for simple flat and spherical folding mirrors to be used in long focal length optical systems. The ability to fabricate optics on-demand allows for systems to be optimized quickly, even after opto-mechanical assembly and characterization.
In Phase I, existing optical design and multi-metric stochastic optimization tools will be used to perform structural, thermal, optical performances (STOP) analysis, refine the trade space, and then design, optimize, and simulate long focal length optical designs that meet the specified application requirements. Also, in Phase I, proof-of-concept 3D-GRIN elements will be fabricated and characterized, allowing for the input design parameters to be validated. The prototype optical elements will be made available to NASA for test and characterization.
The innovation benefits optical missions that require more compact and lightweight optics, including for planetary CubeSats remote sensing, Habitable Exoplanet (HabEx), Large UV/Optical/Near-IR Surveyor (LUVOIR), Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), Balloon Planetary Telescope, Origins Space Telescope (OST), NIR LIDAR Telescope missions, as well as optical communications.
Commercial applications include commercial satellites, cell phone cameras, microscopy, medical imaging (endoscopes, colonoscopes, etc), solid state lighting optics, holographic displays, military head-mounted night vision, riflescopes, UAV sensors, and missile applications.