Twin robotic arms work together as part of a project to construct what will be the largest, most complex object ever 3-D printed in titanium: a test version of the 3-m diameter ‘optic bench’ at the heart of ESA’s Athena X-ray observatory.
The first multi-axis robotic arm builds up each new layer of metal using a laser to melt titanium powder. The second robotic arm then immediately cuts away any imperfections using a cryogenically cooled milling tool. The bench itself is placed on a slowly moving 3.4-m diameter turntable.
“ESA has teamed up with Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology for this exploratory activity,” explains ESA materials and processes engineer Johannes Gumpinger. “The final design of Athena’s optic bench is still to be decided, but if it will be built in titanium then its size and complexity is such that it could not be built in any other way.”
Due to launch in 2031, ESA’s Athena mission will probe 10 to 100 times deeper into the cosmos than previous X-ray missions, to observe the very hottest, high-energy celestial objects.
The mission requires entirely new X-ray optics technology, with stacks of ‘mirror modules’ arranged carefully to capture and focus high-energy X-rays.
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