The Inflatables | Design by Nature

Awards & Nominations

The Inflatables has received the following awards and nominations. Way to go!

Global Nominee

The Challenge | Design by Nature

Design an autonomous free-flyer to inspect a spacecraft for damage from Micro-Meteoroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD).

Inflatable "selfie stick"

Inflatable boom for spacecraft damage inspection exploiting biomimetic technologies.

The proposed concept for the challenge is to have a simple, lightweight, scalable and reliable system to inspect the spacecraft surfaces looking for damages typically caused by MMOD.

The system starts from a simple idea: what humans like to do? Selfies!

Our concept is as simple as a selfie stick: it is based on a deployable inflatable boom that equips an optical device on the tip.

Like snail eyes, our system grows and is deployed. A pressurizing system feeds the inflatable boom for the deployment and a winch rewinds it. This because our system is planned to be deployed, to scan the interested surface and to be packed again in order to avoid interference with the satellite operations.

With respect to a classic deployable boom our system is lighter, it can be efficiently packed and it is more reliable in the deployment. The main challenge of an inflatable structure is that it can be easily damaged by MMOD. Being inspired by nature, our structure is composed of self-regenerative fabrics (already tested on Earth). Like natural tissues, bladders can heal themselves after a damage.

Like animals, our system has eyes. A traditional optical system can be substituted by miniaturized biomimetic technologies. One of the main issues of an optical device is that the inspected surface must be in light. If the illumination cannot be provided by the Sun, we can have an integrated light source, as abyssal animals do.

For what concerns the data transmission, optical fibers can be employed. Moreover, this technology exists in nature in a slightly different fashion.

Once we have the images, how to analyze them? Nature gave us a brain, so let’s use it!

Convolution neural networks can replace traditional image processing. They work like the human visual cortex and thus able to detect high level patterns. The use of neural networks is suitable also for unmanned missions. Moreover, the network model can be trained on ground, reducing the on-board computational cost.

Summarizing, the proposed system is a lightweight structure that enables the monitoring of a surface. This implies that many devices can be installed on a single satellite according to its dimension, making our concept scalable and adaptable to different missions.

As future developments, the optical sensor may be substituted by other kind of instruments, like IR and M-Wave sensors, according to different missions and environments.

Furthermore, the flexibility of inflatable structures can be exploited to create an inflatable snake-arm robot, as already done on Earth.

Link to our presentation:

Link to bibliography:


SpaceApps is a NASA incubator innovation program.