May
11
2013

Origami in spaaaaace

Folding models: Follow the links at the end of the post to make your own!
Folding models: Follow the links at the end of the post to make your own!Courtesy Ellen Lucast
We've all probably folded paper cranes or those little fortune-teller things where you open a flap to learn that you have cooties or are going to marry that smelly kid from your third-grade class. But the science and math of folding has significant engineering implications as well. One notable example is the James Webb Space Telescope, whose mirror and giant sunshield will be folded in order to fit on the rocket that launches it, and will unfold once it's in space. (You can watch the telescope being built here).

As this article from BBC Future discusses, researchers have taken inspiration from leaves and other folding models in order to pack large items into shapes as compact as possible.

You can see more examples of folded sheets at this cryptic site, and print and fold your own, as I did in the photographs at right, from here (click on "Foldable Cylinders" and "Wrapping Fold Pattern"). By the way, I recommend snipping the center out of the circular model like I did, since I found that the tiny folds around it are hard to manage.

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