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THIS MONTH'S FEATURE ARTICLE
Engineers will be called upon to find solutions for the challenges the world will face in the 21st century. These articles highlight the diversity of the work which continues in the search for those solutions.

Origami Used To Solve Space Travel Challenge
January 2021

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have used the ancient Japanese art of paper folding to possibly solve a key challenge for outer space travel – how to store and move fuel to rocket engines.

According to information, the researchers have developed an origami-inspired, folded plastic fuel bladder that doesn’t crack at super cold temperatures and could someday be used to store and pump fuel. Led by graduate student Kjell Westra and Jake Leachman, associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the researchers have published their work in the journal, Cryogenics.

The challenge of fuels management has been an important limiting factor in space travel, largely restricting space travel to either shorter trips for large amounts of cargo or to small satellites for long duration missions. In the early days of the U.S. space program in the 1960s and 1970s, researchers tried to develop round balloons to store and pump liquid hydrogen fuel. They failed. Every bladder would shatter or leak as they tried to squeeze it at the required very cold temperatures for the liquid fuels. The heartiest designs only lasted five cycles.

The researchers abandoned the effort and instead came to rely on less ideal propellant management devices. Current systems use metal plates and the principle of surface tension to manage liquid fuels, but the systems are slow and can only dribble out fuels in small quantities, so the size of fuel tanks and missions are limited.

“Folks have been trying to make bags for rocket fuel for a long time,” Prof. Leachman said. “We currently don’t do large, long-duration trips because we can’t store fuel long enough in space.”

Through a literature search, Mr. Westra came upon a paper in which researchers developed some origami-based bellows. Researchers started studying origami in the 1980s and 1990s with the idea of making use of its complex shapes and interesting mechanical behavior. The origami folds spread out stresses on the material, making it less likely to tear. Using a thin, Mylar plastic sheet, Mr. Westra and collaborators in the Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research laboratory decided to apply the design he saw to develop a fuel bladder.

Having never tried origami before, he said it took a couple tries and a few hours with a Youtube video to figure out how to fold the bellows. Once he folded it, he tested it in liquid nitrogen at about 77 degrees Kelvin. The researchers found that the bladder can be squeezed at least 100 times without breaking or leaking under cold conditions. They’ve since demonstrated the bellows numerous times, and it still doesn’t have holes in it.

The researchers are now beginning to conduct more rigorous testing. They plan to do testing with liquid hydrogen, assessing how well they can store and expel fuel and comparing the flow rates of their bladder with current systems. Mr. Westra recently received a NASA graduate fellowship to continue the project.

The research was supported through a grant from the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation (JCATI) in collaboration with Blue Origin.



Feature Articles
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Origami Used To Solve Space Travel Challenge
January 2021

Researchers have used the ancient Japanese art of paper folding to possibly solve a key challenge for outer space travel…

Collaborations Pave The Way For A Greener Tomorrow
December 2020

Researchers are leading new collaborations that will discover how to deploy innovative charging capabilities in new projects.

Engineers Build Squid-like Robot
November 2020

Engineers have built a squid-like robot that can swim untethered, propelling itself by generating jets of water.

Multi-Year Grant To VPOST Announced
October 2020

The STEM Next Opportunity Fund recently announced a multi-year grant to the Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time (VPOST) as part of the Million Girls Moonshot.

Batteries That Could Make It Easier To Explore Mars Created
September 2020

Electrifying research by Clemson University scientists could lead to the creation of lighter, faster-charging batteries suitable for powering a spacesuit…

Quality Assurance Contract For Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Awarded
August 2020

Dewberry has announced that it will be providing quality assurance (QA) for the entire $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) project.

Optimal Growing Conditions For Sea Vegetables Studied
July 2020

Three species of vegetables from the sea could just be the new kale with the added benefit of a salty flavor.

VCU’s Medicines for All Institute Partners With Industry To Secure The Domestic Pharmaceutical Supply Chain
June 2020

To prevent domestic shortages of critical medications, the Medicines for All Institute, based in the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) College of Engineering, has joined forces with pharmaceutical industry leaders to bring…

New Report Released On Germicidal Ultraviolet (GUV) and How It Could Reduce The Spread of COVID-19
May 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a wave of seemingly conflicting statements and opinions about the disinfection capabilities and safety of GUV, the Illuminating Engineering Society…

Experiments To Test Effects Of Space Conditions On Microbes
March 2020

On Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, a rocket and spacecraft were launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia carrying tubes of bacteria and bacteriophage…

Women in STEM Breakfast Sponsored by Rolls-Royce
February 2020

Elizabeth Lindsey, Executive Director of Byte Back in Washington, DC, was honored recently with the Reaching for the Stars: Outstanding Women in STEM Award at the second annual…

New Study Looks At The Women Who Thrive In Engineering and Technology Education and Career Paths
January 2020

The new collaborative study between DiscoverE and Concord Evaluation Group, entitled Despite the Odds: Young Women Who Persist In Engineering, has uncovered a number of key factors…


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