It seems almost unthinkable that the ancient art of paper folding could inspire the design of a satellite radiator.

But what may have been unthinkable before is now a possibility after researchers from NASA and Brigham Young University started developing a game-changing thermal design for an origami-inspired radiator.

NASA shared on Jan. 31 how Goddard Space Flight Center technologist Vivek Dwivedi, together with two researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah, began building the non-traditional radiator to cool down or warm up small satellites. Dwivedi partnered with BYU Assistant Professor Brian Iverson and doctoral student Rydge Mulford.

Origami-Inspired Satellite Radiator

The design, which draws inspiration from Japan's art of paper folding called origami, will expand or deflate depending on the temperature.

Generally, radiators transfer heat energy in between media either for cooling or heating. Aside from its traditional uses in automobiles and buildings, it can be found in motherboards, spacecraft, and satellites.

This new satellite radiator is seen as the answer to the almost 100 years of research on the use of cavities in heat loss, Mulford said.

The researchers have discovered that the deeper the cavity, the greater the absorption of heat. Conversely, the cavities need to be shallow to facilitate heat dissipation.

"Origami allows you to change the depth of these cavities in real time, thereby changing the heat loss from a surface in real time," he explained.

Satellites' temperature-sensitive components experience changes in temperature due to electronics or heat absorption from Earth or the sun. This novel radiator, with its shape-shifting movements, will determine the heat loss either to cool down or warm up a satellite.

Vanadium-Oxide Coating To Enhance Heat Absorption/Dissipation

The BYU researchers are in the thick of designing the three-dimensional accordion-like radiator. Dwivedi, on the other hand, is developing a special coating to enhance heat absorption or dissipation of the radiator.

Dwivedi, working with professor Raymond Adomaitis at the University of Maryland in College Park, is experimenting with very thin silver and titanium applied on vanadium-oxide. Tests have shown that vanadium-oxide transitions to a metal state from a semiconductor when it reaches the temperature of 154 degrees Fahrenheit.

The transition, the NASA technologist said, increases the capability of the surface to emit heat, which will be crucial to avoid overheating when a satellite experiences fluctuating temperatures while in orbit.

In developing this new satellite radiator, Dwivedi has the goal "to replace traditional radiators with dynamic ones."

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