Nasa creates shape shifting radiator inspired by the Japanese art of Origami

The unconventional radiators developed by Nasa can fold and unfold, allowing the spacecraft to control the heat retained within the satellite


Traditional radiators are heavy and flat, and are therefore not suitable for use in very small satellites, including CubeSats, microsatellites and nanosatellites. The tiny satellites are getting increasingly popular because of the low cost of making and launching them. The satellites can measure as little as four inches on a side, and Nasa has developed a new kind of radiator inspired by origami, that are suitable for use in spacecraft of all kind, including small satellites.

The unconventional radiators can fold and unfold, allowing the spacecraft to control the heat retained within the satellite. If it gets too cold, the radiator can be configured to retain heat. If the satellite gets too warm, the radiator can expand to release the heat. The shape of the radiator allows it to flex in real time, allowing for granular control over the heat retention in the satellite. Scientists have been investigating the use of cavities for controlling heat loss, but this is the first time that a shape shifting radiator has been made.

Cutting Edge Magazine - Vivek Dwivedi

Technologist Vivek Dwiwedi in front of a reactor used to deposit vanadium oxide on a subtrate. Image: NASA/W. Hrybyk

Brian Iverson, an assistant professor and Rydge Mulford, a doctoral student from Brigham Young University have created and are advancing the three dimensional folding structure of the radiator. Vivek Dwiwedi, a technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland is collaborating with the Brigham Young University scientists to apply a coating of vanadium oxide on the structure, a highly emissive coating.

The origami radiator. Image: Nasa.

The origami radiator. Image: Nasa.

Dwivedi says, "This approach has the potential to be a game changer in thermal design. Our goal is to replace traditional radiators with dynamic ones, period." The research is being funded by Center Innovation Fund (CIF), a Nasa fund that supports high risk innovations, with a potential for groundbreaking applications. Dwivedi is also looking at using the research on other projects, including solar panels for satellites. The team is experimenting with different shapes to figure out which is the most ideal for use on spacecraft.


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