The ancient art of origami could have a future in space.
Sweden’s first astronaut and the European Space Agency (ESA) this week unveiled a new project inspired by the paper folding technique.
The program uses technology designed by stillfolda Swedish startup that has pioneered a manufacturing process called “industrial origami.”
The technique uses robotic arms to fold steel plates over curves to form complex and lightweight shapes.
stillfold previously used the approach of building an electric scooter. According to the company, the techniques resulted in 70% less components, 40% less weight, 20% less material costs and 25% less labor costs.
The team believes that such savings could be particularly powerful in space, where they would be possible complex structures that must be built with minimal materials and components. In addition, the method does not require stamping or welding.
Stilfold co-founder Jonas Nyvang envisions the unfolding of vehicles and food storage facilities in space.
“You can’t bring much to space because it takes up limited space,” he told TNW. “The flexibility of our technology makes it possible to take stacked sheets with you for easy storage, and then create stuff by unfolding them when you get there.”
The team will now spend 12 months exploring the possibilities.
Nyvang was previously a marketing director at fashion brand Björn Borg, where he worked with ESA on the development of heat resistant underwear for steel workers.
After the founding of Stilfold, he was drawn to the ESA’s approach to “spinning-in” space technology to Earth and “spinning-out” Earth tech to space.
“The beauty of the space sector is that it pushes the boundaries of material creation for different innovations because there is such a rigid framework for what you can do in space.”
NASA also has experimented with techniques inspired by origamibut these projects focused on large structures.
“There is also great potential for smaller structures – which is what we want to explore first,” Nyvang said.
Stilfold also gives an example of how European startups can get involved in spacetech. Stefan Gustafssona commercialization officer at the ESA, has the following advice for companies looking to work with his agency:
“First check what a nearby ESA Business Incubation Center has to offer. Startups under the age of five can benefit from up to two years of business incubation, with access to technical, financial and IP support, as well as €50,000 in funding,” he told TNW via email.
“In addition, there are several ESA programs that can be attractive to SMEs, for example ESA Business Application Kick-Starters that provide financing to companies that space-based applications. ESA has a patent portfolio of technologies that can be useful in other contexts.
“Finally, ESA’s SME office also has several ways to support startups, for example by getting training for regular ESA contracts.”
There are no guarantees that they will be backed by ESA, but it doesn’t have to take light years to get their technology into space.