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BYU Engineers Use Origami To Develop Space Technologies

Dr. Larry Howell of Brigham Young University and his team build origami-inspired technologies.

A team of engineers at BYU have made some major strides in developing compact technologies by using origami principles. The group is lead by Dr. Larry Howell, a mechanical engineering professor at Brigham Young University with specialization in compliant mechanisms or the study of movement from bending materials.

"Really interesting discoveries have been made by origami artists over the centuries, including some unique motions and one of those unique motions is being able to make things very compact; say it is a single sheet of paper and that expands out into some really interesting shapes," said Howell. "And so if you take those interesting motions and convert them into non-paper type materials, and it takes some engineering  work to do that, and then it turns out you can do some interesting things."

Howell’s team is in collaboration with NASA, prototyping compact equipment that can be deployed and expanded once in space. Some developing technologies include a solar panel 25 meters in diameter which would generate two times the amount of power currently being produced by International Space Station solar panels and a satellite that can fit in a 10 centimeter-cubed space.

"These are some small satellites that will go in and just kind of sit in the nooks and crannies of a rocket and basically have a cheap ride to space," said Howell.

Howell said there are many opportunities for this technology to improve other fields such as “back-packable” solar panels for the military, medical equipment for minimal invasive surgeries, and consumer products for easy storage.

Though there is no space journey currently scheduled for the equipment, the prototypes continue to  develop and improve with research, according to Howell.