Launching anything into space is really, really, really expensive. So, the number one concern when building something that needs to be launched skyward is keeping it small, and keeping it light. Most of the solar panels used on spacecraft are designed to fold open once they reach their destination, but just how they're folded can have a big effect on how small they are at launch time. To get the maximum possible efficiency in packing, a group of spacecraft engineers at Brigham Young University have sought out the advice of origami expert and physicist Robert Lang.
The BYU team has been working with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop a solar array that folds open to nearly ten times its packed size, and which is capable of generating 250 kilowatts of power. When folded, the array is designed to wrap around the core of the spacecraft. While a specific application for the array has yet to be determined, NASA expects to continue developing the origami-inspired designs for the next several years.
So, the next time you see a kid playing around with origami shapes, they can just tell you that they're designing the next generation of solar arrays for space.
Check out the video to see the BYU team talk about the design process, and to see how the final array might look.