Future space missions incorporating solar electric propulsion (SEP) will require large solar arrays that are an order of magnitude larger than the current state of the art for deployable arrays. This invention is a structural concept for such an array, and was designed to enable large arrays that package compactly and are exceptionally lightweight.
The array structural concept consists of a single slender tube that is folded to provide compact packaging. Slender tubes fabricated from high-modulus composites can provide adequate stiffness and strength for the benign loading environment of space. The array is designed to be readily analyzable to minimize the amount of ground testing required. The array is implicitly modular to simplify development. Tension guy cables can be used to provide additional stiffness and strength if needed.
Prior approaches for achieving high compaction for large solar arrays involved the use of split tubes that can be rolled up, or a fan-like unfolding array. The challenge for this innovation was to develop 300-kW class solar arrays that have low mass, package compactly, and deploy reliably.