Rydge Mulford applies origami to aerospace challenge

By Press Release


Rydge Mulford, a 2007 graduate of Delta High School and a doctoral student at Brigham Young University, has received a NASA fellowship for a project inspired by origami, Japan's ancient art of paper folding.

In collaboration with Vivik Dwivedi, a NASA technologist, Mulford is experimenting with the design of a three-dimensional, folding radiator to remove or retain heat on small satellites.

Mulford explains that flat surfaces reflect radiation away. Working with thin sheets of metal and computer models, he creates folds and deep cavities that trap the radiation. Through experimentation, he is determining how to absorb just the right amount of heat from the sun to develop a radiator ideal for small spacecraft.

"Of course this would be done automatically in space," he explained during a telephone interview.

The son of Vally and Julie Mulford, Rydge submitted the origami concept with his application for a NASA fellowship. The concept circulated through NASA and Dwivedi, a technologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., recognized the potential of a partnership.

NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship and NASA's Center Innovation Fund, which supports potentially groundbreaking, high-risk technologies, are funding the effort.

Under the partnership, Brigham Young University assistant professor Brian Iverson and Mulford are experimenting with different shapes to determine which configuration would work best as a radiator, while Dwivedi is developing a coating to enhance the radiator's heat-shedding or conservation capabilities.

This novel radiator controls the rate of heat loss by performing shape-shifting maneuvers. The resulting topographical changes could be achieved with temperature-sensitive materials like muscle wire or shape-memory alloys. As temperature-sensitive materials experience a change in temperature -- caused by spacecraft electronics or the absorption of heat from the Earth or sun -- the radiator could automatically change its shape to either shed or conserve heat.

The deeper the folds or cavities, the greater the absorption, explained Mulford, adding that scientists have investigated the use of cavities to affect heat loss for nearly 100 years, but no one has approached the challenge in quite this way. "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 said.

"The combination of origami and a vanadium-oxide-based coating would be the first time two different variable emissivity devices have been combined into one structure," Iverson said. By combining both technologies, the team believes it can create a smaller, more efficient radiator ideal for use on CubeSats, tiny spacecraft that are growing in popularity due to their relatively low cost. Such a radiator, Iverson said, could be easily attached to any spacecraft surface where heat needed to be rejected.

Mulford has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from BYU. He and his wife Lenore, a Montrose native, live in Provo and have a son, Blue, who is almost 2 years old.

Rydge is on track to receive his PhD in December 2018. This summer, he will likely be working in the Air Force Research Lab in Albuquerque, N.M., and next summer he'll be headed to the jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena.

While his research is focused on aerospace, he said his ultimate career goal is to teach at a research university. "I would like to continue researching aerospace and energy, specifically how we can make personal changes in our lives to conserve energy."

Because of his fellowship, Mulford said he won't be able to attend his 10-year class reunion this summer but he remembers several DHS teachers as having impacted his life. Because of Mr. Ramsey, he was not afraid of math. Ms. Houser taught speech and debate, and the ability to communicate well "has been way more important than I thought it would be." From Mrs. MacKendrick, Mulford learned how to be organized, which has been very important in his research. "Be interested in what you're doing" is just one of the life lessons he remembers from Mr. Ames.

This article is based extensively on a NASA posting. For the full story, go to https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/nasa-s-new-shape-shifting-

radiator-inspired-by-origami.