Bigger is better when it comes to space-based solar panels – but rockets have a very limited amount of room, so getting them into orbit can be a challenge. So where do NASA researchers turn when looking for solutions to this packing problem? Surprisingly, they look no further than the good, old-fashioned art of origami. Using an innovative folding technique, researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) and NASA created an 82-foot solar array that can fold down to just 8.9 feet when closed.
Right now, there are solar arrays that fold into simple shapes like accordions and fans, but this latest version actually folds into a flower-like configuration. When it opens, it looks like a flower beginning to bloom and if you look closely at the open array, the structure looks like it is made up of dozens of parallelograms.
The whole thing opens by just tugging one corner and once it is fully opened, it is a large, flat circle. The folding origami shape is called the Miura fold, named after the astrophysicist Koryo Miura, who invented it in the 90s for solar use. And just how powerful is this gorgeous solar array? Just one can generate 250 kilowatts of power, which is a massive improvement over the mere 14 kilowatts that current arrays provide. You can watch a video about the array here.
Images via BYU