A senior at South El Monte High School, and founder of its Engineering Club, Hua, 17, landed a coveted high school summer internship at JPL alongside about eight other high school students, where he joined the research of the deployment of solar arrays that utilize the basic principles of origami — a Japanese art form that creates flashy designs like birds, flowers and cartoon characters by folding a piece of paper.
“The way it folds up is very unique compared to other arrays where it’s just a square piece that folds up,” he said. “So there’s definitely some art in there.”
“They’re very aesthetic in their appearance in the way they fold, much like other origami,” said Brian Trease, a mechanical engineer at JPL and Hua’s mentor during his internship. “We cut it into pieces and reassembled in a certain way. Origami has ways. We’re allowed to break the rules for engineering purposes.”
The origami-inspired solar arrays use a rigid structure to safely fold into itself, keeping the array’s 90 individual solar cells sturdy.
“Fragile things like solar cells, which could just break when they’re bent, would be perfect for this solar array,” Hua said.
He said the design could also be applied in other applications.
Shrinking instruments to make for more room is a goal for current and future space exploration, according to Randall Foehner, a JPL mechanical engineer and the group supervisor of Hua’s internship group, division 38, which focused on mechanical deployables, actuators and booms.
“We’re trying to do more science with less spacecraft, so we’re miniaturizing everything,” Foehner said. “This technology, folding and storing in small volumes, is in perfect alignment with the future of a spacecraft and what we’re trying to do.”