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High-tech telescope helps put focus on U.S. industry
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 8, 1995 Technology used to produce a one-of-a-kind telescope designed at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) could lead to a number of previously unobtainable commercial products requiring high-precision manufacturing.
The virtually all-beryllium telescope, designed as part of a defense system to intercept incoming missiles, provided a number of challenges to the manufacturer, Speedring Systems. In overcoming those challenges, ORNL, Speedring Systems and another partner, the Army's Space and Strategic Defense Command, achieved breakthroughs company officials believe could contribute to an array of areas that touch people's everyday lives.
"The development of this telescope represents an important milestone and an important lesson learned," said William Martin, vice president of Technology Transfer for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which manages ORNL for DOE. The telescope is an example of how national laboratories can team with industry to lower production costs and to manufacture to a greater degree of precision a far greater range of materials, he said.
"This is much more than beryllium mirrors," said Martin, who envisions the new processes this project helped advance leading to better molds for the plastics industry; higher quality, less expensive sensors; and numerous other products.
Beryllium, a rare metal, was selected because of its high strength-to-weight ratio and other characteristics that make it extremely durable and impervious to heat, radiation and blasts of light, all of which the telescope could encounter performing its task. Beryllium, however, is brittle and difficult to fabricate. In addition, special precautions are needed during the machining process, which creates dust. As a result, the number of companies with suitable capabilities was limited.
Speedring Systems, which has expertise working with metals, manufactured the telescope using a single-point diamond turning technique developed at ORNL. This technique, utilized by Speedring Systems through a contract, involves precision machining that produces optics-quality surfaces that need little polishing.
Martin and people like Greg Stottlemyer of Ballistic Missile Defense Organization believe this project will eventually lead to portable, affordable weapons detection systems, ceramics molds for commercial products, advances in medical equipment and improved precision measurement methods used by the semiconductor industry .
"Whenever you can produce something small and very precise, like this high-quality telescope, it opens up many other applications," Stottlemyer said. "The same techniques used to make a precision product out of a brittle and difficult material like beryllium can have many commercial applications."
ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.
You can learn more about this research and many other exciting projects by visiting ORNL Oct. 21, 1995, during its Community Day event. Many of the lab's facilities will be open to the public that day. For additional information, call ORNL Public Affairs, 865-574-4160.