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June 02-11, 2011

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Microgravity University

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Project Abstract

The proposed experiment aims to quantitatively investigate how various parameters affect the deployment of thin-walled carbon fiber hinges. These hinges have been used as joints for a variety of space based applications over the past decade from solar arrays to spacecraft antenna; however their deployment characteristics are not fully understood. The lack of information about the deployment characteristics of these joints has led to long delays in past missions where the numerical simulations ineffectively predicted joint behavior.

The goal of the proposed experiment is to compare deployment characteristics of the carbon fiber joints in microgravity to prior numerical simulations and simulated microgravity experiments in order to improve the numerical models of prior research. Refining these models will lead to better prediction algorithms for how a joint will deploy in microgravity, and open up the possibility of widespread implementation of carbon fiber hinges on space structures.

A Bit of Background

Self-deployable space structures are by no means a novel idea. They are made from ultra-thin composite materials which can be easily folded to store elastic energy and deployed by releasing this energy to reach a zero-strain, equilibrium state. The advantages of using self-deployable structures are numerous: low mass to deployed stiffness ratio, excellent packaging efficiency, relatively low cost, few necessary moving parts, no electrical components, and ease of manufacturing. They are extremely versatile and have already made their way into many different aerospace applications.

Many more complicated structures are being proposed in this fast-growing field such as the Fold Integrated Thin-film Stiffener solar array. Rather than studying a specialized structure as such, we will focus on characterizing the mechanical properties of a very adaptable component called the Slotted Hinge, which can be used to form much more complicated structures.

A Slotted Hinge