Skip to main content

Navigating the challenges of optical component design for commercial space ventures

optics in space applications

Quality control of optics is particularly important in space applications (Credit: Vadim Sadovski/

In recent years there has been a notable influx in private investment within the space sector, which has not only helped the commercialisation of such projects that used to be the reserve of agencies and research institutions, but it has also aided the evolution of new technological solutions for such projects and opened up new and exciting use cases.

When designing systems and instruments for use in low earth orbit, there are a number of environmental factors that must be considered, such as ground storage conditions, a rigorous launch sequence, influence of radiation, and the demanding thermal conditions of deployment in space. Size and weight limitations are also important to take into account, as space payloads must adhere to strict constraints. When designing such a system, it is vital to partner with an optical component supplier with a proven history of experience in this specialist field in order to meet the stringent requirements.

40 years of application experience in space missions

Omega Optical is just such a partner, having accumulated decades of experience with space agencies, on projects such as the Lasercomm Science (OPALS) mission, which enabled data from the International Space Station at a speed of 400Mbps; and the supply of interference filters to cameras abroad the Hubble Telescope, which are still in use today. So, when a company in the field was looking for a partner to meet some very niche requirements, they approached Omega Optical, and the team, led by Markus Fredell, Principal Thin Film Design Engineer, and Steve Washkevich, Application Engineer, were delighted to oblige.

The engagement between the two companies was complimented by a shared excitement for space exploration – both real and fictional, as Fredell and Washkevich admit to being big science fiction enthusiasts as well as real life experts in optics for real-life projects. As Fredell says: “This project really captured our imagination, and the beauty of that is when we go into a conversation with their technical resources, we're already armed with this deep interest in what it is that they're doing, and all of these questions that have just come up during our internal discussions.”

This is so much the case that the duo speculatively designed and produced the filters very early in the process. “It was very rapid fire,” says Fredell. “We decided that we just had to go and visit them. We wanted to bring these filters with us, put them in their hands, and say ‘we love the project that you guys are working on. We produced filters for it. These are free. Try them out. Let us know what you think!’”

A customer-centric, design-led approach

This level of customer-dedication is very much a way of life at Omega Optical, as Washkevich elaborates: “We have a symbiotic approach where what matters most is that the customers succeed and their application succeeds. I believe that we all see it as their success is ultimately our success.” This approach allows for a collaborative environment in which Omega Optical's engineers are deeply invested in understanding customers’ objectives and technical challenges.

One notable instance of such a challenge was the brainstorming session wherein Washkevich’s design authority prompted him to propose a novel approach to address the client’s particular flatness specifications for mirrors. Fredell reveals: “It was during one of these moments where we're all at the whiteboard, and Steve looks at me and says, 'why don't we make it also reflective at 633?' This means it would then have to be anti reflective for 633 on the back side, which we weren’t sure was possible from a design standpoint, but sure enough, it could be done pretty readily.”

Recognising the criticality of quality assurance in aerospace applications, Omega Optical was well placed to apply stringent quality control measures to ensure the reliability of its products, having not only supplied optics for airborne and orbital applications, but also filters for Lunar missions and the Mars Rovers. Washkevich says: “We always make sure that our quality control is really as high as we can possibly put it, and it was particularly important in this case because these things were going into space."

Other challenges encountered for the teams included a degree of initial uncertainty in measurement techniques and the need to ensure material degradation (demisability) was fully addressed for re-entry into orbit. However, the design expertise, proactive engagement and open communication helped to resolve these challenges. Washkevich emphasises: "We really operate in a ‘no bad ideas’ kind of place."

The efforts and camaraderie between the two teams of engineers made a real impression on the customer, as Fredell acknowledges: "They made it very clear to us that their entire technical team really enjoyed working with us, and that anytime our name comes up in conversation amongst their technical staff, they are always very happy and full of praise for the efforts that we gave them, which is fantastic.”

Find out more about Omega Optical’s design authority for custom aerospace applications.


Read more about:


Media Partners