Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center worked with Jacobs Engineering and ManTech International to develop an inflatable solar array that could be used to provide power for missions in space.
The sample solar array that was tested was packaged into a small volume similar to what would be carried on a small spacecraft. When it was deployed, it inflated to capture energy from the sun. The solar arrays have thin photovoltaics/diodes. The system has no pointing mechanisms and few other parts that could potentially break.
Engineers measured the amounts of energy produced by the solar cells both before and after deployment in the laboratory. The folding and deployment did not damage the cells. The amount of energy produced remained consistent throughout the test. The solar array could provide an average of 1 kilowatt of power to a spacecraft in Earth orbit.
NASA engineers have analyzed many space vehicle concepts and concluded that most would benefit from lighter and more affordable sources of power. The inflatable solar array could provide power for both large and small spacecraft. Current research is focusing more on small satellites and spacecraft, which is driving the need for lighter and more efficient systems to provide power.
Engineers at NASA’s Advanced Concepts Office believe the inflatable solar array could benefit small spacecraft orbiting the Earth, three-unit cubesat missions, and larger probes designed to explore the outer planets. The system could be created on a larger scale for satellite missions and on a smaller scale for cubesat missions. The inflatable array could be used in conjunction with other technology, such as advanced solar electric propulsion, on missions into deep space.
The testing proved that the system worked in a laboratory and that the concept was feasible. The team plans to continue their work to make the system more efficient and to eventually build a prototype for flight testing.
The research was funded through the Marshall Center’s technology investment program.
Two graduate students have designed an inflatable solar-powered LED light to help victims of natural disasters.
The LuminAID light was created by Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, who were pursuing master’s degrees in architecture and design. Their task was to find a way to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
While most people consider the need for food, water, and shelter, Stork and Sreshta believed that the issue of light was often overlooked. Disaster zones can be especially dangerous at night. The pair wanted to focus on providing affordable, renewable light to improve victims’ comfort, safety, and survival.
The LuminAID pack weighs 2.9 ounces and is roughly the size of a cell phone. The pack is inflated by mouth using a built-in valve. It can expand to the size of an airplane pillow. The pack absorbs energy from the sun and can provide 10 to 16 hours of light at night. The air trapped inside diffuses the LED light that is emitted. It can produce as much light as a standard lantern and can also be used for camping.
The makers of LuminAID are working with non-profits and non-governmental organizations through the Give Light, Get Light program. The lights are being provided to victims of disasters in over a dozen countries, such as Haiti and the United States.
Sreshta presented the LuminAID light in June at the White House Maker Faire hosted by President Obama. She explained how the team created a prototype with Radio Shack batteries, handheld heat-sealers, and solar panels. The team hopes to continue experimenting with ideas to create positive change through their inventions.
Portuguese company Tooizy has launched a line of inflatable stands to be used to promote businesses at exhibitions and events. The stands fit in a backpack or suitcase and can be set up in minutes.
Tooizy invented the inflatable exhibition stands to reduce costs and optimize the use of resources by small and medium-sized businesses presenting at events. The company has demonstrated its products all over Portugal and has received a positive response.
The stands are made of durable nylon and are highly flexible, easy to clean, and maintenance-free. The Tooizy stands are built with tubular profiles for a unique appearance. Metal discs are placed in bags to provide weight to keep the stands anchored at their bases. The weight varies depending on the size of the booth from about two to 22 pounds.
The Tooizy inflatable stands come with a small high air pressure pump that allows them to be assembled or dismantled in just minutes. They can stay inflated for several days. The stands also come with kits to quickly repair leaks.
One of Tooizy’s models, the Hexa, is modular and can shorten or grow depending on the amount of space available. The stands are available in a variety of colors and can be customized with the customer’s choice of patterns or images. Images printed on the Tooizy can be changed.
Prices vary depending on size, type of framing, design, and finishing. The Tooizy stands are less expensive than constructing conventional booths and much easier and faster to set up and dismantle.
The new inflatable Fugu Bag, designed by artists Peng You and Hongchao Wang, allows residents of busy urban areas to protect their precious cell phones, tablets, and laptops from damage. The designers created the bag because most people carry electronic devices with them that are filled with vital contacts, emails, photos, and other important data, but those valuable devices may not be adequately protected.
The bags are made of a durable carbon-fiber fabric coated both inside and outside with polyurethane. Rather than being sewn together like a traditional bag, the panels are attached with high-frequency welding, which provides extra strength and makes the seams waterproof.
The interior of the bag consists of inflatable sections fashioned from thermoplastic polyurethane film, which is strong and able to stretch. When the sections are inflated, they protect the bag’s contents from damage that may occur from being bumped or dropped. The sections can be inflated and deflated to customize the shape of the bag to fit its contents. The Fugu Bag can be inflated in one minute, stays inflated for five days, and can be deflated in just 10 seconds. A series of sacks, pouches, and loops allow the owner to keep the contents organized.
The designers believe their Fugu Bag is a better alternative than other bags, which can be heavy and cumbersome. They say their bag is easier to use because it is both lightweight and durable.
You said he got the inspiration for the Fugu Bag from inflatable sportswear and packaging, which are lightweight but provide effective protection. He tested over 50 inflatable patterns in thermoplastic polyurethane to find out which shape would be the most efficient.
The Fugu Bag was presented at the RCA 2014 exhibition.
A project known as SuSy, which was funded by the European Union, developed a system that can use inflatable balloons on ships to save them in the event of an accident. The engineers involved in the project turned the idea into a proof of concept last year. The idea was demonstrated on a model bottom of a medium-sized tanker in the Greek port of Chalkida.
Experts believe the balloons will improve maritime safety by reducing damage, preventing ships from sinking, allowing more time for evacuations, and preventing spills that could contaminate water and beaches.
The system uses existing technology in a new way. Kevlar-reinforced balloons can be installed anywhere on a ship. Good choices would be between double hulls and in ballast water tanks.
The devices used to inflate the balloons are based on technology used in submarine rescue systems and rapid blow-out devices originally used to launch satellites. Cartridges attached to the balloons hold potassium nitrate, which is used in gunpowder, as well as epoxy resin and ferric oxide, or rust. The gunpowder oxidizes the epoxy resin and causes the balloons to inflate, and the rust improves the reaction. Cool air must be provided from a second cartridge or a heat exchanger device before the gas enters the balloon to prevent the heat from the reaction from damaging the balloons or cargo.
The process needs to be further developed to control the gas exhaust and improve the material of the balloons. The balloons may present challenges related to ship construction and maintenance that will have to be addressed as the system is improved.