Inflatable shape changing colonies assembling versatile smart space structures

Thomas Sinn, Daniel Hilbich, Massimiliano Vasile

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

2 Citations (Scopus)
146 Downloads (Pure)


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 neighbouring 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 structures can be created. The overall structure is made up of a number of cellular colonies consisting of a central pressure source surrounded by multiple cells. After launch, the cellular arrays are deployed in space and are either preassembled or alternatively are attached together during their release or afterwards. A central pressure source is provided by a high-pressure storage unit with attached valve, which is routed to each colony and provides ingress gas flow into the system; a sequence of valve operations and cellular actuation then allows for any desired shape to be achieved within the constraints of the deployed array geometry. This smart structure consists of a three dimensional adaptable cellular array with fluid controlling Micro Electromechanical Systems (MEMS) components enabling the structure to change its global shape. The proposed MEMS components include microvalves, pressure sensors, mechanical interconnect structures, and electrical routing. This paper will also give an overview of the system architecture and shows the feasibility and shape changing capabilities of the proposed design with multibody dynamic simulations and on-ground prototype bench tests. Example applications of this lightweight shape changing structure are substructures for solar sails capable of steering through solar winds by altering the sails’ subjected area, as well as concentrators, mirrors, or communications antennas able to dynamically change their focal point.
Original languageEnglish
PagesPaper IAC-13-C2.5.2
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2013
Event64th International Astronautical Congress 2013 - Beijing, China
Duration: 23 Sept 201327 Sept 2013


Conference64th International Astronautical Congress 2013


  • bio-inspired computation
  • smart structures
  • MEMS
  • shape changing capabilities


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