Towards freeform optics manufacturing capabilities in Thailand for Space and Astronomical applications

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Materials Science and Engineering


Thailand is quickly building its astronomical instrumentation development capacity. In the past decade, National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) has actively grown its workforce on two fronts: astronomical instrumentation for the Thai National Observatory (TNO) and space instrumentation and satellite development through the Thailand Satellite Consortium (TSC; NARIT, the Siam Photon Laboratory and the Geo-informatics and Space Technology Development Agency). TSC is currently building its first "made in Thailand" satellites - a major national milestone. However, one limitation restricts independent advancement on these fronts: to access innovative technologies, Thailand must rely on developed countries for hardware and associated support, and this is particularly true for optical design and manufacture, which depend heavily on heritage, expertise and specialised equipment.

NARIT desires to remove this barrier and invest in a future Thailand optical manufacturing capability, which will help to drive Thailand's economy and industries in line with the Thailand 4.0 economic model. This project proposes a programme that provides both knowledge exchange and a joint Thai-UK research project, to upskill Thai academics and engineers in conventional and additive optical manufacturing methods, to enable internal capability and impact within wider disciplines.

The project will enable the transfer of 2 key technologies to Thailand:

- Freeform optics are identified as a NARIT research priority; they are novel, versatile optical elements with no axis of rotation or symmetry. Increasingly, they are used in pioneering optical designs offering abundant new opportunities for optical designers. The emergence of these new types of surfaces has been very much in pace with the development of Single Point Diamond Turning (SPDT).
- Metal additive manufacturing (MAM), which has significant potential when applied to optical manufacturing and freeform optics in particular. MAM is the process of building a component layer-upon-layer in metal and it is commonly used low count bespoke parts. MAM prints a near-net shape without material removal, formers, or shape manipulation, which define conventional manufacture

Combining Metal Additive Manufacturing with optical freeform manufacturing has, therefore, a lot of potential for the production of pioneering astronomical and space instrumentation. SPDT and MAM have also a strong potential to be spun out into business ventures to stimulate the local economy.


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