Activation of Self-folding Origami in Microgravity Environment (AoSOME)

PI: Russell Mailen, Davide Guzzetti (Co-I), Auburn University

The goal of this project is to understand the self-folding dynamics of shape memory polymer (SMP) sheets in microgravity. Shape memory polymers can be used as lightweight mechanical actuators to deploy solar arrays or open/close antennas. They offer significant weight savings over motors and are not likely to be affected by lunar dust. As these actuators are driven by the release of stored energy, understanding the building blocks of self-folding science will inform the design and development of SMP deployment mechanisms.

Technology Areas (?)
  • NA
Problem Statement

Lightweight mechanisms are obtained by pre-straining the polymer so that it shrinks when heated above the glass transition temperature. Specific actuation/folding patterns may be obtained by controlling local energy absorption properties of the material, e.g. via coating. Local heating due to infrared (IR) light absorption by ink patterns produces a gradient of temperature and shrinking through the thickness of the sheet, which induces self-folding. This approach has been demonstrated in ground-based experiments, and the effects of parameters such as ink pattern geometry, darkness, and light intensity have been investigated. The effects of space environments, e.g. radiation and vacuum, on polymers have been evaluated through combinations of ground and on-orbit based testing. However, microgravity effects on self-folding can only be approximated in ground-based experiments for the simplest of fold patterns.

Technology Maturation

These flight tests will investigate self-folding of single fold and intersecting fold (e.g. Miura-Ori) patterns in a microgravity environment and compare the results to ground-based experiments as a step toward resolving unknown self-folding SMP behaviors. Characterization of self-folding in microgravity is necessary to advance the TRL for future applications in deployable structures.

Future Customers


Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    EPSCoR22 (Aug 2022)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 0 Parabolic

Development Team

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