Origami Concepts Applied To Solar Panel Arrays

An origami expert has been called upon to help design solar panel arrays for space vehicles and stations.

Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers have been working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design an array of solar panels that can be tightly compacted for launch and then unfurled for use once in space.

Origami expert Robert Lang is helping to achieve this goal; assisting in a solar array design that when unfolded is 10 times the compacted size. The prototype will be able to be folded down to a diameter of 2.7 meters and unfolded to 25 meters across.

The final design would see the array wrapped around the spacecraft in its folded state and the ultimate goal is create a 250kW “origami” solar power system.

The origami approach also has potential application in CubeSat technology. A recent RFI from NASA calls for information on suppliers able to produce solar sail systems measuring 10 meters by 10 meters.

“It’s hard to predict what the greatest outcome of this collaboration will be, but it would be a great success if a solar array based on our concept flew on a NASA mission,” said Mr. Lang.

Using origami for solar technology is just the first step.

“If we can extend the knowledge of origami artists to work in materials beyond paper, it will lead to powerful systems with unprecedented performance,” said BYU professor and research team leader Larry Howell. “We will do things no one has ever done before.”

Some of the other potential applications include implants that can be inserted through small incisions before expanding inside the body and foldable emergency housing that can be shipped or parachuted compactly and then expanded.

The research has been funded by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant to explore the combination of origami and compliant mechanisms.