Additive Manufacturing of Compliant Mechanisms for Deployable Aerospace Structures

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Gebara, Christine
Rimoli, Julian J.
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In the past 10 years, complex deployable structures have become common on JPL CubeSats (e.g. RainCube, MARCO, ISARA) and large-scale spacecraft (e.g. SMAP, SWOT, NISAR, Starshade). As new, ambitious missions are pursued, there is an increased need for more mass and volume efficient deployments (higher packing density). Over the same timeframe, additive manufacturing (AM) has enabled the fabrication of new forms of flight hardware including the PIXL instrument structure, the Moxie instrument, and the RainCube antenna structure. However, AM of compliant mechanisms has not been leveraged to design deployable space structures. AM of compliant mechanisms within deployable structures (e.g. antennas, solar panels, booms), could drastically lower part counts, create novel structural tuning methods, and design previously impossible geometries. Utilizing AM would therefore lead to deployable spacecraft elements with higher mass and volume efficiencies. AM of compliant mechanisms (4D printing) is an active research area. The ability to print these mechanisms in polymers has been demonstrated. However, metal 4D-printing is still a maturing technology for aerospace applications. One area of interest is additive manufacturing of flexure hinges for flat reflectarray antennas, radiators, and solar panels. Another application is the ability to print structurally embedded spring elements that are geometrically tuned for a specific deployable structure. This could result in numerous benefits. Primarily, embedding compliant mechanisms directly where they are used would simplify deployment dynamics, thus also simplifying the characterization and control of the deployment. Second, printing structurally embedded compliant elements could enable systems that are otherwise impossible to assemble or manufacture. For example, the ability to print a structurally embedded torsional spring within the hinge mechanisms for a SWOT-type deployable mast could ease manufacturing problems, decrease part count, decrease mechanism shimming, and improve reliability.
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