A Caltech Library Service

Mechanics of Ultra-Thin Composite Coilable Structures


Leclerc, Christophe (2020) Mechanics of Ultra-Thin Composite Coilable Structures. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/X60S-BR30.


Coilable structures are thin-shell structures that can be coiled around a hub by flattening their cross-section. They are attractive for multiple space applications as they allow efficient packaging and deployment of large planar structures. Reducing the shell thickness enables smaller coiling radius and more efficient packaging.

This thesis investigates TRAC structures, a type of coilable structure, made of ultra-thin composite materials. A design using a laminate made of glass fiber plainweave fabric and carbon fiber unidirectional tape is proposed, leading to a shell thickness of 0.08 mm. An in-autoclave, two-cure manufacturing process is presented, and a shape measurement method is used to mitigate post-cure shape changes due to residual stresses.

A study of the structure behavior in its deployed configuration is performed. First, the behavior when subjected to pure bending is investigated experimentally for structures with a length of 575 mm. Two regimes are observed, with a pre-buckling phase transitioning to a stable post-buckling phase after an initial buckling event. The ultimate buckling moment following the stable post-buckling regime can be as high as four times the initial buckling moment. A finite element model is developed and is able to reproduce all the features observed experimentally, except the ultimate buckling. This simulation model is used to study the effect of varying the structure length from 300 mm to 5000 mm on the initial buckling moment. Results show that nonlinearities in the pre-buckling deformations of the flanges under compression lead to a constant wavelength lateral-torsional buckling mode for which the critical moment is mostly constant across the range of length. The torsional behavior of the TRAC structure is also investigated. Good agreement is obtained between experiments and numerical simulations, and initial twist in the structure is shown to have little effect on the overall behavior due to the small torsional stiffness in the underformed configuration.

An analytical method to predict the buckling load of a TRAC structure under pure bending is presented. It is achieved by considering only one flange of the structure and solving the problem of a cylindrical shell panel with a longitudinal free edge under non-uniform axial compression. Partially uncoupled stability equations for a balanced laminate are derived and are used in conjunction with the Rayleigh-Ritz method to approximate the buckling load. This method overestimates the buckling load by 44% in the case of a 500 mm TRAC structure made with ultra-thin composite materials.

A study of the coiling behavior is also presented. High localized curvature in the transition region between the coiled and deployed regions is observed in experiments, leading to material failure for a structure made only of carbon fiber unidirectional tape. A numerical framework is developed and reproduces the localized curvature observed in experiments, predicting stress concentration at this location. The study shows that changing the laminate to a a single ply of carbon fiber unidirectional tape sandwiched between plies of glass fiber plainweave fabrics reduces significantly the maximum stress in the transition region, to the extent that the highest stress is now in the fully coiled region and can be accurately predicted using simple equations based on the change of curvatures due to the coiling process.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Composites, Space Structures, Coilable Booms, Coilable Structures, Deployable Structures
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Space Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Thesis Committee:
  • Daraio, Chiara (chair)
  • Bhattacharya, Kaushik
  • Rosakis, Ares J.
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Defense Date:13 December 2019
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:01232020-134850757
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 2. adapted for Chapter 5. adapted for Chapter 5.
Leclerc, Christophe0000-0003-1999-4757
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13629
Deposited By: Christophe Leclerc
Deposited On:06 Apr 2020 21:21
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 18:53

Thesis Files

PDF - Final Version
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page