Researchers are creating origami-inspired satellite tv for pc antennas that may fold themselves

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As humanity pushes new boundaries in exploring space, satellites and spacecraft will have to pack more cargo in the long run. However, certain items, such as antennas used for wireless communication, present a challenge because their characteristic bowl shape means they cannot be packed very tightly for flight.

Now researchers at Texas A&M University have used the principles of origami – the ancient Japanese art of folding paper – to create a parabolic structure from a flat surface using a shape memory polymer. When heated, the researchers showed that the shape memory polymer systematically changes shape and mimics wrinkles. This reshaping lifts the material into the shape of a bowl. In addition, they also showed that their origami-made antennas were just as efficient as traditional smooth dish antennas.

“In the beginning we mainly focused on self-folding origami structures: how would you make them, how would you make them in different shapes, what material would you use?” said Dr. Darren Hartl, Assistant Professor at the Department of Aerospace Engineering. “After answering some of these questions, we turned to some real world applications of origami, such as adaptive antennas, for which very little work was done. In this study, we combine folding behavior and antenna performance and close that gap. “”

The researchers described their antenna design in the journal Smart Materials and Structures.

Antennas are available in different designs. Their main function is to send or receive information in the form of electromagnetic waves. Some antennas, such as those used for communication between a television and a space-based satellite, are curved in the shape of a parabola. This ensures that the electromagnetic waves that hit the bowl-shaped antenna are reflected and converge to a small focal point. When these antennas send electromagnetic waves, it does so in a narrow direction, which is known as directivity.

Therefore, parabolic reflectors are a natural choice for space applications as they either pick up or send information in a specific direction. However, their shape makes it impractical to store in spacecraft with limited space. This problem is exacerbated when many antennas have to be stored on board.

One way to overcome this hurdle is with origami engineering. With this technique, flat 2D structures can be folded into complex 3D shapes. If parabolic antennas can be flattened with origami, they can be stacked or rolled up in a rocket. When ready to use, they can be rolled out and folded into a parabolic shape. However, Hartl stated that folding a piece of flat material into a smooth bowl is difficult and not intuitive.

Using cardboard and a shape memory polymer, Dr. Hartl and his team create complex 3D structures from flat 2D surfaces. Photo credit: Texas A&M Engineering

“Traditional origami design involves folding thin sheets of material with sharp folds. Technical structures, on the other hand, have thickness, and the choice of material can make it difficult to get those sharp folds,” he said. “So we have to create folds that curve evenly.”

To make the paper-like folding at the folds easier, researchers turned to shape-memory composites, which change shape when heated. In addition, these materials are inexpensive, light, flexible and can be stretched several times without being damaged.

First, they built a flat 2D surface from strips of shape memory composites and cardboard. Simply put, stiff pieces of cardboard that formed flat facets were held together by the shape-memory composites, much like the ribs of an umbrella hold the fabric in place. At the corner points where the composites meet, they cut out tiny holes to serve as corner folds when the assembly folds into a 3-D parabola.

When heated, the researchers showed that the composite materials changed their shape through systematic bending and finally lifted the pieces of cardboard into a parabolic shell-like shape. They also tested whether their multi-faceted parabolic reflector worked as efficiently as a smooth parabolic antenna and found that the two antennas performed comparable.

Hartl said this research is an important step in using the origami principles to create highly functional engineering structures that can be stowed compactly and easily deployed when needed.

“In addition to other applications, future advances based on this research are likely to result in reflector antennas being transformed for military and space telecommunications applications,” he said.

Other contributors to this research include Sameer Jape, Milton Garza, and Dr. Dimitris Lagoudas from the Aerospace Engineering Department; Joshua Ruff and Francisco Espinal from the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Deanna Sessions and Dr. Gregory Huff of Pennsylvania State University; and Edwin A Peraza Hernandez from the University of California, Irvine.

This is how origami could shape the future of engineering

More information:
Sameer Jape et al. Self-foldable origami reflector antenna by activating the shape memory polymer, Smart Materials and Structures (2020). DOI: 10.1088 / 1361-665X / abaac2 Provided by the Texas A&M University College of Engineering

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