Successful Delft Space Institute-TNO-SRON ‘Innovate Your Space’ symposium on December 8th 2020

Miguel Bessa and Richard Norte, researchers at the TU Delft at the Faculty of Mechanical,
Maritime and Materials Engineering have been awarded an Interstellar Initiatives Grant
from the Limitless Space Institute.The award is for their research ‘Origami Photonic
Crystal Sails with Machine Learning’. Their research focus is about the development
and demonstration of nanoscale origami photonic crystal membranes using
data-driven machine learning.

The Limitless Space Institute recently awarded the researchers a grant to get this origami
mirror technology off the ground for uses in space optics, communications and ultra-fast
propulsion of space probes with radiation pressure. This collaboration is centered on the
combination of Richard Norte’snanophotonics with Miguel Bessa’s expertise in machine
learning designing for origami structures. This new research route came about nearly a year
ago when Miguel and Richard received a Cohesion grant to begin their scientific collaboration.
The research is now looking into how machine learning optimization can be used to optimize
nanotechnology in a way that would be difficult to conventional, intuition-based techniques.
Richard Norte and Miguel Bessa are currently manufacturing the world’s most
lightweight mirrors that are manufactured from nanometre-thick films of glass,
which are naturally only about 30% reflective.

These mirrors are some of the thinnest and most flexible mirrors ever made because of their
thickness of only 50nm – equivalent to 1/1000th the diameter of a human hair – and an ability
to reflect 99.9% of light that reflects from it. By patterning these materials at a nanoscale,
Norte and Bessa change these films from a thin sheet of glass into a super-reflective material
not found in nature but engineered in a cleanroom.