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Probing the Buckling of Thin-Shell Space Structures


Royer, Fabien A. (2021) Probing the Buckling of Thin-Shell Space Structures. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/ksn2-t598.


The overarching goal of the research presented in this dissertation is to apply and extend a newly developed methodology to understand the buckling of complex thin shell structures. This methodology enables the determination of tighter buckling criteria and paves the way to the development of more efficient structures, used closer than ever to their buckling load and even beyond. It would result in dramatically lighter structures to be built and has the potential to enable new applications, such as extremely large aperture satellites.

We first analyze the stability of open section thin shell structures under a pure bending moment, through simulations. These structures are composed of longitudinal thin-shell elements connected transversely by thin rods, and inspired by real spacecraft structures. The present study applies and extends recent work on the stability of cylindrical and spherical shells. The role of localization in the buckling of these structures is investigated and early transitions into the post-buckling regime are unveiled using a probe that locally displaces the structure. The probing method enables the computation of the energy input needed to transition early into a post-buckling state, which is central to determining the critical buckling mechanism for the structure. We show that the structure follows stability landscapes also found in cylindrical and spherical shell buckling problems. This initial computational study is the basis for the first ever probing experiment on a complex structure.

In order to test these new structures under bending, a new bending apparatus is designed and implemented. The boundary conditions are chosen such that the apparatus is statically determinate (isostatic), and no state of self stress can develop in the sample during its mounting and testing. This feature is especially desirable in the study of thin shell structures and their elastic instabilities, for which imperfection sensitivity plays a crucial role in the buckling transition and the post-buckling regime. The accuracy of the isostatic bending machine is first assessed through the testing of rods, and its imperfection insensitive behavior is then highlighted in experiments on tape springs, and through numerical studies of the same structures.

The new bending machine is complemented by a probing apparatus, and the stability of the open section thin-shell structures subjected to a pure bending moment is studied experimentally. The experiment confirms that localization of deformations plays a paramount role in the structure's nonlinear post-buckling regime and is extremely sensitive to imperfections. This characteristic is investigated through probing experiments. The range of moments for which the early buckling of the structure can be triggered using this probe perturbation is determined, as well as the energy barrier separating the pre-buckling and post-buckling states. The stability of the local buckling mode is then illustrated by an experimental stability landscape of shell buckling, and probing is then extended to the entire structure to reveal alternate buckling modes disconnected from the structure's fundamental path. These results can be used to elaborate efficient buckling criteria for this type of structures, through the use of transition diagrams determined experimentally.

Finally, the buckling and post-buckling behavior of ultralight ladder-type coilable structures is investigated. These specific structures are used in the Space Solar Power Project at Caltech and are referred to as strips. Similarly to the previous studies, the stability of strip structures loaded by normal pressure is computationally studied by applying controlled perturbations through localized probing. The probing technique is generalized to higher-order bifurcations along the post-buckling path, and low-energy escape paths into buckling that cannot be predicted by a classical eigenvalue formulation are identified. It is shown that the stability landscape for a pressure-loaded strip is similar to the landscape for classical shells, and the open section thin shell structure studied initially in this thesis. While classical shell structures buckle catastrophically, strip structures feature a large stable post-buckling range. Probing enables the full characterization of the structure's unstable behavior, which paves the way to extend its operation closer than ever to the buckling load, and even in the post-buckling regime. It would enable the design of more efficient structures by dramatically reducing their mass, therefore enabling new large spacecraft to be built.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:mechanics, thin shells, buckling, structures, instabilities, space, engineering
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Space Engineering
Awards:William F. Ballhaus Prize, 2021. Ernest E. Sechler Memorial Award in Aeronautics, 2019.
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Thesis Committee:
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami (chair)
  • Daraio, Chiara
  • Meiron, Daniel I.
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Defense Date:14 May 2021
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05312021-185024653
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for ch. 5 used as a basis for the work of ch. 5
Royer, Fabien A.0000-0003-2452-2893
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14209
Deposited By: Fabien Royer
Deposited On:07 Jun 2021 15:34
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 18:53

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