Smart deployable space structures

  • Thomas Sinn

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Nowadays, space structures are often designed to serve only a single objective during their mission life, examples range from solar sail for propulsion over shields for protection to antennas and reflectors for communication and observation. By enabling a structure to deploy and change its shape to adapt to different mission stages, the flexibility of the spacecraft can be greatly increased while significantly decreasing the mass and the volume of the system. Inspiration was taken from nature. Various plants have the ability to follow the sun with their flowers or leaves during the course of a day via a mechanism known as heliotropism. This mechanism is characterized by the introduction of pressure gradients between neighboring motor cells in the plant's stem,enabling the stem to bend. By adapting this bio-inspired mechanism to mechanical systems, a new class of smart deployable structures can be created. The shape change of the full structure can be significant by adding up these local changes induced by the reoccurring cell elements. The structure developed as part of this thesis consists of an array of interconnected cells which are each able to alter their volume due to internal pressure change. By coordinated cell actuation in a specific pattern, the global structure can be deformed to obtain a desired shape. A multibody code was developed which constantly solves the equation of motion with inputs from internal actuation and external perturbation forces. During the inflation and actuation of the structure, the entities of the mass matrix and the stiffness matrix are changed due to changing properties of the cells within the array based on their state and displacement. This thesis will also give an overview of the system architecture for different missions and shows the feasibility and shape changing capabilities of the proposed design with multibody dynamic simulations. Furthermore, technology demonstrator experiments on stratospheric balloons and sounding rockets have been carried out to show the applicability and functionality of the developed concepts.
Date of Award25 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorMassimiliano Vasile (Supervisor) & Colin McInnes (Supervisor)

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