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Cross-Sections and Nets

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Origami in Outer Space

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24662369@N07/4399423028/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Imagine launching a telescope as big as a football field into outer space. It’s one thing to build a telescope that large, but how do you engineer an instrument with such a great surface area so that it can fit into a compact rocket for launch? Engineers use complex two-dimensional folding patterns to safely collapse these large instruments. So how can origami help NASA? 

Why It Matters

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is currently the largest optical instrument in space. Its 2.4-meter aperture mirror allows it to capture images of some of the most amazing and distant objects in the universe. What would make an even more powerful telescope? The answer lies in even bigger instruments with larger surface areas capable of collecting more light. While NASA is working on the bigger and better James Webb Telescope (shown in comparison to Hubble below), the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is dreaming up a telescope 100 meters in diameter… that’s more than 40 times the size of Hubble!

Credit: Laura Guerin
Source: CK-12 Foundation
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

So how do you get such a telescope into space? LLNL has built a small model of the massive lens (shown in the link below), and it has the ability to neatly fold up into a compact package that would fit inside the small-volume space of a rocket. The engineers got their inspiration from astrophysicist Koryo Miura who built an origami-folding solar panel for a Japanese satellite in the 1980s. The engineers who build these devices must understand how intricate folding patterns can result in efficient collapsing, just like understanding how complex nets can form three-dimensional figures in geometry.

See for yourself with this article on LLNL's Eyeglass Telescope: 
http://www.langorigami.com/science/technology/eyeglass/eyeglass.php

Explore More

With the following videos, learn more about space telescopes and the math behind origami. Then answer the questions below.

http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_lang_folds_way_new_origami.html (start at 11:00 for origami applications)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgwwlhWH4dM

  1. What else has origami been used for in the medical engineering field?
  2. Geometrically speaking, how is the primary mirror of the James Webb Telescope constructed?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24662369@N07/4399423028/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Laura Guerin; Source: CK-12 Foundation; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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