Scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory have invented novel components for membrane-like tensioned precision structures for use by space vehicles and satellites. The patented device described here is available for license to companies that would make, sell, or use it commercially.
Deployable structures are used when there are significant space restraints on cargo and the deployed structure is not needed until it arrives at its destination. Ideal examples include antennas that are deployed once a device reaches a transmit or receive location and solar panels that are folded like origami during space vehicle launch and subsequently unfolded upon attainment of orbit. Weight and compactness are common characteristics.
Signifigant effort has gone into the development of material for new deployable structures but what may receive less attention are the hinges that these structures rely on for deployment. Air Force researchers have not missed this issue and have developed a compliant hinge that is elastically flexible in order to provide relative rotation between the more rigid structures.
The compliant hinges offer increased potential for customization regarding the location, size, stiffness, and materials as required by specific membrane-like deployable structures. In addition, the hinges can be engineered with known locations and stiffness properties. The shape determinacy of the tensioned structure using them can be significantly greater than a traditional membrane. The structural benefit provided by the relatively low in-plane shear compliance is the structure’s resistance to wrinkling, where wrinkling includes the out-of-plane deflection of an otherwise two -dimensional structure, for example, a membrane-like deployable structure. If a structural error is introduced, such as from fabrication, or thermal warping, the compliant hinges, as the only source of significant compliance in the structure, can adjust and deform to a new minimum strain energy stated without significant out of plane stresses.
- Light weight, highly compactable, simple, and low cost
- Can be selected to meet the required in-plane extensional stiffness and fold to 180° without exceeding the elasticity limit of the material of choice
- Substantially no friction losses, hysteresis, or need for lubrication
- U.S. Patents 9,970,222 and 10,358,851 available for license
- Potential for collaboration with Air Force researchers