The future of space flight may be founded on the traditions of art. Using the techniques of origami, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is examining how to use the craft of paper-folding to compact solar panels for space travel.
Japanese origami art traditions have already been referenced in diverse technology, from airbags in cars to transforming robots to human tissue engineering, and for space exploration having something take up as little space as possible, while being easily unpacked, is essential. “You think of it as ancient art, but people are still inventing new things, enabled by mathematical tools,” NASA mechanical engineer Brian Trease, who has a longtime interest in origami, explained in a release. Trease worked with Brigham Young University doctoral student Shannon Zirbel, and collaborated with origami expert Robert Lang, who has long been active in promoting it in science, and BYU professor Larry Howel, to combine different traditional folds for an 82-foot solar array that whirls down to 8.9 feet.
The video below demonstrates the solar array blossoming from a small spiral to a flat panel — a “no astronaut assembly required” design. Potentially the origami-influenced device could be incorporated into satellites or even spacecrafts. For now, it’s an experiment in adapting a centuries-old art to cutting edge design.
Read more about the origami solar panel project at NASA.