A report proposes devices containing electrorheological fluids (ERFs) damper for controlling deployments of lightweight, flexible structures in outer space. The structures would include spring members that could be wound or compressed for compact stowage during transport. The ERF based damper would keep the structures compacted and/or regulate the speeds with which the structures would spring out for deployment. After deployment, ERF based dampening mechanism could be used to rigidize the structures or damp their vibrations. The report describes several potential variations on the basic concept of an ERF-controlled structural member, including compartmentalization of the interior volume to prevent total loss of the ERF in case of a leak and the use of multiple, individually addressable electrode pairs to enable more localized control.

This work was done by Yoseph Bar-Cohen, Zensheu Chang, Moktar Salama, Xiaoqi Bao, and Stewart Sherrit of Caltech; Christopher Jenkins of SDSM&T; and Aleksandra Vinogradov of Montana State University for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.