NASA has been looking for new ways to launch and deeply large solar panels without taking more room or cargo weight. A team from Brigham Young University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have come to the rescue with solar panels that fold like origami.
The preliminary prototype is a 1 cm-thick solar array that can expand from 8.9 feet to 82 feet. A technique referred to "hannaflex" has the solar panels looking like a flower when compacted and folds out to a flat, circular form.
“This is just begging to be deployed with centrifugal force,” Brian Trease, a mechanical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Wired. He first learned the art of origami as a high school exchange student in Japan. “We could have it on spacecraft where we just spin it and that force allows the panels to deploy out to their position.”
However, it could still be years before NASA builds a full-sized working prototype.
“We know that they unfold nicely. But we can’t have a team of astronauts out there doing the unfolding for us," Trease said.
He added: “Origami has historically been done in paper. Now we’re looking at, how do you fold metals? How do you fold plastics?” They are also considering which materials would withstand the wear and tear of being folded and unfolded over and over again.
See how the Origami Solar Array Prototype works in the video below.
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