The hinge can be used for in-space deployment of antennas, reflectors, cameras, solar panels, and sunshields, as well as in any structure requiring hinges.

There are two conventional types of hinges for in-space deployment applications. The first type is mechanically deploying hinges. A typical mechanically deploying hinge is usually composed of several tens of components. It is complicated, heavy, and bulky. More components imply higher deployment failure probability. Due to the existence of relatively moving components among a mechanically deploying hinge, it unavoidably has microdynamic problems. The second type of conventional hinge relies on strain energy for deployment. A tape-spring hinge is a typical strain energy hinge. A fundamental problem of a strain energy hinge is that its deployment dynamic is uncontrollable. Usually, its deployment is associated with a large impact, which is unacceptable for many space applications. Some damping technologies have been experimented with to reduce the impact, but they increased the risks of an unsuccessful deployment.

The Shape Memory Composite Hybrid Hinge is composed of two strain energy flanges and one shape memory composite tube.
Coalescing strain energy components with shape memory composite (SMC) components to form a hybrid hinge is the solution. SMCs are well suited for deployable structures. A SMC is created from a high-performance fiber and a shape memory polymer resin. When the resin is heated to above its glass transition temperature, the composite becomes flexible and can be folded or packed. Once cooled to below the glass transition temperature, the composite remains in the packed state. When the structure is ready to be deployed, the SMC component is reheated to above the glass transition temperature, and it returns to its as-fabricated shape.

A hybrid hinge is composed of two strain energy flanges (also called tapesprings) and one SMC tube. Two folding lines are placed on the SMC tube to avoid excessive strain on the SMC during folding. Two adapters are used to connect the hybrid hinge to its adjacent structural components. While the SMC tube is heated to above its glass transition temperature, a hybrid hinge can be folded and stays at folded status after the temperature is reduced to below its glass transition temperature. After the deployable structure is launched in space, the SMC tube is reheated and the hinge is unfolded to deploy the structure. Based on test results, the hybrid hinge can achieve higher than 99.999% shape recovery.

The hybrid hinge inherits all of the good characteristics of a tape-spring hinge such as simplicity, light weight, high deployment reliability, and high deployment precision. Conversely, it eliminates the deployment impact that has significantly limited the applications of a tape-spring hinge. The deployment dynamics of a hybrid hinge are in a slow and controllable fashion. The SMC tube of a hybrid hinge is a multifunctional component. It serves as a deployment mechanism during the deployment process, and also serves as a structural component after the hinge is fully deployed, which makes a hybrid hinge much stronger and stiffer than a tapespring hinge. Unlike a mechanically deploying hinge that uses relatively moving components, a hybrid hinge depends on material deformation for its packing and deployment. It naturally eliminates the microdynamic phenomenon.

This work was performed by Houfei Fang and Eastwood Im of Caltech, and John Lin and Stephen Scarborough of ILC Dover LP for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48370

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