It's a wrap for solar panel Origami

Brian Trease with the Hannaflex 'flower' solar panel, inspired by Origami.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers have created foldable solar panels.

Brian Trease, a mechanical engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and a team of researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU), Provo, Utah, is investigating Origami folds for the panels for spacecraft components.

"Researchers say Origami could be useful one day in utilizing space solar power for Earth-based purposes," says Trease. He envisages an orbiting power plant that wirelessly beams power using microwaves. The solar arrays could be folded and sent into a single rocket launch. Trease and Shannon Zirbel, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at BYU are working with NASA Technology Research Fellowship, Robert Lang, an Origami expert and Larry Howell, a BYU professor to develop a solar array prototype which is 10mm thick and can fold up to 2.7m in diametre. Unfolded, it stretches up to 25m across. The 1/20 scale prototype (pictured) is a flower shape which unfolds in to 1.25m hexagon.

The JPL researchers call the material used for the solar panels Hannaflex. Different materials needed to be stress tested and the Miura Origami fold used here, means that the Hannaflex appears to be divided evenly into a checkerboard of parallelograms.

The foldable solar arrays could be used in conjunction with small satellites, or CubeSats, as well as antennae.

Caroline Hayes

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