Small Wonder (+)

Turning big things into small packages is useful enough when you’re packing for a long car trip, but when you’re packing for a voyage into space, where weight and volume are at a premium, it’s absolutely essential.

That’s why a team at Caltech’s Space Structures Laboratory has developed an efficient new packing technique that can be used to minimize the space required to store structures with large surface areas. Such structures potentially include solar sails—used to propel spacecraft—prior to their deployment in space.

The technique, called “slip wrapping,” is demonstrated online in a new video.

In addition to being useful for packaging solar sails, the technique may help package other structures including drag sails, photovoltaic arrays, and thermal shields—all of which are large, but thin, when deployed.

Graduate student Manan Arya; Nicolas Lee, the W. M. Keck Institute for Space Studies Postdoctoral Scholar in Aerospace; and Sergio Pellegrino, the Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Civil Engineering, conceived the technique.

Pellegrino’s work was previously featured in the Winter 2013 issue of E&S; see “Using Space Wisely” on page 14. Lee is funded as a Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) Prize Postdoctoral Fellow; KISS is a “think and do tank” that aims to develop revolutionary concepts and technology for future space missions (see March 2015 issue of E&S for a recent feature on KISS).

A paper on this technique was presented at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ SciTech 2015 in Kissimmee, Florida, in January. It can be downloaded from

—Jon Nalick