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Ancient origami inspires new rocket leg design

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on July 16, 2019 - Duration: 01:41s

Ancient origami inspires new rocket leg design

In the 50th anniversary year of the first manned moon landing, scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle are in the early stages of designing rocket legs inspired by Japanese origami.

Joe Davies reports.

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Ancient origami inspires new rocket leg design

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) ASTRONAUT NEIL ARMSTRONG SAYING: "That is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It's 50 years since Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.

A feat as impressive then as it is now.

But could the next lunar mission feature another new leap in technology?

Here at the University of Washington in Seattle, scientists are looking to ancient Japan for inspiration.

They're building model rocket legs based on the concept of origami.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON RESEARCHER, YASUHIRO MIYAZAWA, SAYING: "The most basic principle that we took from origami art is the fact that the specific crease pattern can create a specific material with a specific material property that we want." Folding creases in the legs create what the developers say is a counterintuitive wave motion.

This means when pressure is put on the leg, the folding creases react by trying to return to their normal position.

Joining origami cells together increases the amount of impact that can be absorbed.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) AERONAUTICS AND ASTRONAUTICS ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, PROFESSOR J.K.

YANG, SAYING: "So space landing structures still heavily rely on plastic materials or some form of impact-mitigating layers that should be replaced after every mission.

So I envision our structures can be replacing those components so that the landing structures also can be reusable after missions." The project is part of a drive towards making space ventures more resourceful and affordable.

Now, scientists want to make models from plastic and composite materials such as carbon fibre.

If the legs can be made strong enough, the hope is the technology could one day feature on lunar landing modules for repeat missions.

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