How a Simple Paper Art Inspires Cutting-Edge Space Solutions: origami

Uncover the role of origami in the aerospace industry, from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to adaptable aircraft wings, and how it's changing the future of flight.

How a Simple Paper Art Inspires Cutting-Edge Space Solutions: origami

Monday January 29, 2024,

3 min Read

In the intricate and delicate folds of origami, lies not just an ancient art form, but the unfolding future of aerospace engineering. This traditional Japanese practice of paper folding, dating back to the 17th century, is now revolutionising modern aerospace engineering in ways that were once unimaginable.

Origami, at its core, is about transforming a flat sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. The beauty of origami lies in its simplicity and the infinite possibilities it presents. This same principle is now being applied to aerospace engineering, offering innovative solutions to complex problems.

One of the most significant applications of origami in aerospace is in the design of spacecraft and satellite components. Space is a premium in spacecraft, and every inch counts. Origami-inspired techniques allow for components to be compactly folded for launch and then expanded once in space. This approach not only saves space but also reduces the weight of the spacecraft, a critical factor in aerospace engineering.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is a prime example of origami principles in action. The telescope's sunshield, which protects it from the heat and light of the Sun, employs an origami-based design. This design enables the sunshield to be folded compactly during launch and then unfurled to its full size in space, a process reminiscent of unfolding a piece of paper into an intricate origami model.

Moreover, the application of origami in aerospace is not limited to space. Engineers are exploring origami-inspired designs for aircraft wings. These wings can change shape during flight, adapting to different flying conditions, much like how a piece of paper can be folded into various shapes. This adaptability could lead to more efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft.

Origami is also influencing the design of airbags and other deployable structures, where space-saving designs are crucial. By studying the folding patterns of origami, engineers are developing airbags that can be compactly stored and then rapidly deployed in the event of a crash, potentially saving lives.

Origami is more than an art form; it's a source of inspiration for aerospace engineers. Its principles of simplicity, efficiency, and adaptability are helping solve some of the most complex problems in aerospace engineering. From the vast expanse of space to the skies of our planet, origami is proving that even the simplest folding technique can have astronomical impacts. This ancient art form, once used to create beautiful sculptures, is now shaping the future of aerospace, demonstrating that great things indeed come in folded packages.