Local testing and reduced model validation of thermal-formed thin-film polyimide panels

Jonathan T. Black, Suzanne Weaver Smith, Jack Leifer, Larry J. Bradford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Stiff, ultra-lightweight thermal-formed polyimide panels considered here are examples of next-generation gossamer structures that resolve some of the technology barriers of previous, membrane-dominated gossamer designs while maintaining their low mass and low stowage volume characteristics. The research involved statically characterizing and modeling several of these panels to develop validated computer models which can be used to determine the effects of changing manufacturing parameters and scalability. Static characterization showed substantial local nonlinear behavior that was replicated by new physics-based finite element models in which the test data were used to define model parameters. These simple nonlinear spring models were significantly smaller than shell element models of the same structure and exhibited superior performance by closely matching the experimental data. Overall, the research contributes to the total knowledge base of gossamer technologies, advances stiff panel-based structures toward space qualification, and demonstrates their potential for use in apertures and other spacecraft.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1412-1426
Number of pages15
JournalMechanical Systems and Signal Processing
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Mr. John Rowe of the University of Kentucky for his modeling assistance. Portions of this work were performed under a NASA SBIR Phase I study, a NASA Graduate Student Research Program fellowship, Grant no. NNL04AA21 H, Mr. Richard Pappa, advisor, and a University of Kentucky Dissertation Year Fellowship. The presented data are part of a Dissertation completed in partial satisfaction of a Doctor of Philosophy degree, Drs. Jack Leifer and Suzanne Weaver Smith advisors, and Drs. George Blandford and Kozo Saito committee members, and published through the University of Kentucky.


  • Lightweight panels
  • Nonlinear static
  • Physics-based hybrid modeling
  • Thermal formed
  • Thin-film structures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Signal Processing
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications


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