Design and development of a deployable self-inflating adaptive membrane

Thomas Sinn, Massimiliano Vasile, Gunnar Tibert

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book

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Space structures nowadays are often designed to serve just one objective during their mission life, examples include truss structures that are used as support structures, solar sails for propulsion or antennas for communication. Each and every single one of these structures is optimized to serve just their distinct purpose and are more or less useless for the rest of the mission and therefore dead weight. By developing a smart structure that can change its shape and therefore adapt to different mission requirements in a single structure, the flexibility of the spacecraft can be increased by greatly decreasing the mass of the entire system. This paper will introduce such an adaptive structure called the Self-inflating Adaptive Membrane (SAM) concept which is being developed at the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory of the University of Strathclyde. An idea presented in this paper is to adapt these basic changeable elements from nature’s heliotropism. Heliotropism describes a movement of a plant towards the sun during a day; the movement is initiated by turgor pressure change between adjacent cells. The shape change of the global structure can be significant by adding up these local changes induced by local elements, for example the cell’s length. To imitate the turgor pressure change between the motor cells in plants to space structures, piezoelectric micro pumps are added between two neighboring cells. A passive inflation technique is used for deploying the membrane at its destination in space. The trapped air in the spheres will inflate the spheres when subjected to vacuum, therefore no pump or secondary active deployment methods are needed. The paper will present the idea behind the adaption of nature’s heliotropism principle to space structures. The feasibility of the residual air inflation method is verified by LS-DYNA simulations and prototype bench tests under vacuum conditions. Additionally, manufacturing techniques and folding patterns are presented to optimize the actual bench test structure and to minimize the required storage volume. It is shown that through a bio-inspired concept, a high ratio of adaptability of the membrane can be obtained. The paper concludes with the design of a technology demonstrator for a sounding rocket experiment to be launched in March 2013 from the Swedish launch side Esrange.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication53rd AIAA/ASME/ASCE/AHS/ASC Structures, Structural Dynamics and Materials Conference
Place of PublicationReston, VA.
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2012
Event53rd Structural Dynamics and Materials Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
Duration: 23 Apr 201226 Apr 2012


Conference53rd Structural Dynamics and Materials Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityHonolulu, Hawaii


  • space structures
  • smart structures
  • Self-inflating Adaptive Membrane (SAM)
  • heliotropic orbits
  • piezoelectrics
  • astronautics


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