What you’re looking at is no standard paper crane but it is a breakthrough development that could one day let us reuse spacecraft build epic superhero suits or even harvest energy for electronics and it all relies on the ancient art of origami. Origami based Metamaterials in space
Okay so let’s start at the beginning this is a meta material no that’s not a hipster material that is obnoxiously self-referential a meta material is an artificial substance engineered to exhibit properties that we haven’t actually found in nature at least so far they’re designed with repeating structures allowing them to direct and control the flow of electromagnetic or physical waves through them.
Many materials have incredible properties like light bending abilities or super conductivity that come from their structure not their substance and that means that engineering teams like this one at the University of Washington can make reality bending properties emerge from something as simple as acrylic and paper this design in particular draws from the mathematical concepts of origami. Origami based Metamaterials in space
While the ancient art of paper folding has been understood and utilized in Japan since at least the 17th century there are remarkably few studies about the dynamics of these complex shapes that can fold and unfold from a two-dimensional sheet you might think about a mobius strip for example how many sides does it have is it two or three dimensional take that idea one or a few hundred steps further and you’ll find the principles of origami at the core of Space Telescope’s deep sea robotics drug delivery systems and artificial muscles in this case these aeronautical engineers created a beautiful modular structure using shapes they call PCOS poetic.
I know that stands for triangulated cylindrical origami which makes sense when you look at their shape unlike other meta materials which typically tend to harden under compression this structure exhibits strain softening behavior this essentially means that the engineers found a way to turn a compression wave that is a push or heavy impact into a tension wave that is a pole let me say that again this structure based on the way that it’s planes creases in tension points are arranged can reverse a physical force using nothing more than everyday materials and geometry if that isn’t magic well
I don’t know what more you want from science what you can see in this 3d model is that as the impact from the compression wave shown in red propagates or travels through this structure it creates an opposite force ahead of it the tensile waves shown in blue this happened so quickly that the tensile wave actually opposes the impact softening it significantly this is pretty nuts imagine football helmets or air bags made of this stuff imagine how useful it could be in construction areas prone to natural disasters like earthquakes or my personal fantasy combine this with optical metamaterials and you have yourself an invisible suit of armor but I digress. Origami based Metamaterials in space
if we can find ways to efficiently convert kinetic electromagnetic or thermal energy into electrical energy we might be able to ditch conventional batteries entirely the conversion of one kind of kinetic energy into its opposite is actually a huge step down this road and finally one of the most exciting potential applications of this tech is recyclable spacecraft since SpaceX’s Falcon 9 demonstrated that controlled re-entry descent and landing was in fact possible Engineers have been fascinated with the idea of reusable rockets that would make space exploration cheaper and more accessible than ever.