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Folding and Dynamic Deployment of Ultralight Thin-Shell Space Structures


Reddy, Narravula Harshavardhan (2023) Folding and Dynamic Deployment of Ultralight Thin-Shell Space Structures. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/m7rd-6s86.


Thin-shell structures are becoming increasingly popular for space missions due to their high stiffness-to-mass ratio, easy folding and coiling, and self-deployment using stored strain energy. Broadly, two deployment strategies exist: 1) controlled or deterministic, and 2) unconstrained. Controlled deployment involves carefully orchestrated events using control or guidance systems, while in unconstrained deployment, the structure is simply allowed to self-deploy with minimal guidance. Unconstrained deployment offers lighter deployment mechanisms and better packaging efficiency but the unpredictability of this process has been a significant obstacle to its adoption.

This study focuses on demonstrating the predictability of unconstrained dynamic deployment of thin-shell structures, using the Caltech Space Solar Power Project (SSPP) structures as a case study. The Caltech SSPP uses composite triangular rollable and coilable longerons as the primary building blocks to create large bending-stiff structures. The specific objective is to improve the predictability and robustness of the unconstrained dynamic deployment of the Caltech SSPP structures. Deployment is influenced by the initial conditions and the interaction between the structure and the mechanism during the deployment. To understand these effects, high-fidelity numerical simulations are developed and validated against experiments. The study also examines the sensitivity of deployment characteristics to various design parameters and external influences to ensure the robustness of deployment.

This research demonstrates that the interaction between the structure and the deployment mechanism must be minimal to ensure the predictability of deployment, as thin-shell structures can self-deploy using stored strain energy. This study's sensitivity analysis will inform the design of future SSPP deployment mechanisms and structures. Additionally, the numerical simulation techniques developed have broader applicability beyond this specific case study to any deployable thin-shell structure.

Due to the large aspect ratios of thin-shell structures, a very fine finite element mesh is required to model them accurately. A dense finite element mesh is also required to model the contact interactions between the structure and the rigid components of the deployment mechanism. As large spacecraft structures become increasingly complex, full-scale numerical modeling becomes impractical, necessitating the search for more computationally efficient finite element methods. In this study, NURBS-based isogeometric analysis is explored, and it is shown that it is not yet worth switching to NURBS-based elements for the analysis of thin-shell deployable structures. In addition, h-adaptive meshing for quadrilateral shell elements is investigated, and more efficient refinement indicators and solution mapping techniques for nonlinear analyses are proposed and their superior performance is demonstrated using a test case of quasi-static folding of a tape spring.

This thesis fills a gap in the literature on unconstrained dynamic deployment of space structures, providing crucial insights and numerical modeling tools for further research. It establishes a knowledge and resource foundation to advance space structure design and promote more frequent use of unconstrained deployment, marking a pivotal contribution to the field and enabling safe and efficient space structure deployment. Furthermore, the study provides insights into more computationally efficient finite element methods, such as h-adaptive meshing. These insights are broadly applicable and can inform the design of future deployable structures beyond the tested cases.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Unconstrained deployment, deployment dynamics, thin-shell structures, isogeometric analysis, h-adaptive finite element analysis
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Thesis Committee:
  • Meiron, Daniel I. (chair)
  • Lapusta, Nadia
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
  • Sader, John E.
Defense Date:9 May 2023
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Caltech Space Solar Power ProjectUNSPECIFIED
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05292023-160132013
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 5. adapted for Chapter 2.
Reddy, Narravula Harshavardhan0000-0003-3897-8162
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:15223
Deposited By: Narravula Reddy
Deposited On:01 Jun 2023 16:27
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 18:53

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