NASA is Working on Origami Solar Arrays That Unfurls in Space
The dream? Orbiting solar panels that beam energy down from space. The problem? Solar panels are shaped with maximum surface area to catch as many rays as possible, but wide, flat disks are also not very aerodynamic on the trip into space. The solution is to get clever with geometry.
For NASA engineer Brian Trease and his collaborators, the inspiration is obvious: origami. They've worked out the folds for a massive solar array 82 feet in diameter that packs down to just 8.9 feet wide. With one simple tug, the entire array opens like a flower, expanding to its full, flat size. NASA already uses simple accordions and fans to fold arrays for its space missions, but this flower-like solar array prototype is more complicated, and more compact. We might see them used with CubeSats, tiny satellites that we're now sending into space in droves.