Origami Spaceship

Spaceship launching into outer space.

What ancient craft is out of this world?! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh, with the Loh Down on Science.

Space is COLD! About minus four hundred and fifty five degrees Fahrenheit. Brr! Such chilly temperatures can turn spaceship materials brittle. Is there a way to make them more sturdy at interstellar temps? 

Kjell Westra and a team from Washington State University turned to an ancient Japanese art form, ORIGAMI. 

They folded thin plastic sheets into a structure called a bellows. This shape expands and contracts easily, spreading the mechanical strain across its entire surface. To simulate the frigid outer space, the researchers submerged the origami structures in liquid nitrogen. 

Results? The researchers were able to stretch and squish the bellows ONE HUNDRED times! They saw no tears or holes in the material. A regular sheet of plastic? Gave in after just FIVE CYCLES of stretching.  

The researchers hope that origami design will inspire plastics more suitable for space applications. 

Looks like the scientists knew when to fold ‘em. Me? I think I’ll hold ‘em… Brrr.

Reference: Westra, K., Dunne, F., Kulsa, S., Hunt, M., & Leachman, J. (2021). Compliant polymer origami bellows in cryogenics. Cryogenics, 114, 103226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cryogenics.2020.103226