Review of Large Spacecraft Deployable Membrane Antenna Structures
Review of Large Spacecraft Deployable Membrane Antenna Structures
Zhi-Quan Liu 0 1 2
Hui Qiu 0 1 2
Xiao Li 0 1 2
Shu-Li Yang 0 1 2
0 Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering, China Academy of Space Technology , Beijing 100094 , China
1 & Zhi-Quan Liu
2 Supported by Research Fund of Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering, China Academy of Space Technology , China, Grant No. ZTBYY-7
The demand for large antennas in future space missions has increasingly stimulated the development of deployable membrane antenna structures owing to their light weight and small stowage volume. However, there is little literature providing a comprehensive review and comparison of different membrane antenna structures. Space-borne membrane antenna structures are mainly classified as either parabolic or planar membrane antenna structures. For parabolic membrane antenna structures, there are five deploying and forming methods, including inflation, inflation-rigidization, elastic ribs driven, Shape Memory Polymer (SMP)-inflation, and electrostatic forming. The development and detailed comparison of these five methods are presented. Then, properties of membrane materials (including polyester film and polyimide film) for parabolic membrane antennas are compared. Additionally, for planar membrane antenna structures, frame shapes have changed from circular to rectangular, and different tensioning systems have emerged successively, including single Miura-Natori, double, and multi-layer tensioning systems. Recent advances in structural configurations, tensioning system design, and dynamic analysis for planar membrane antenna structures are investigated. Finally, future trends for large space membrane antenna structures are pointed out and technical problems are proposed, including design and analysis of membrane structures,
Membrane antenna; Parabolic; Plane; Tensioning system; Dynamics
materials and processes, membrane packing, surface
accuracy stability, and test and verification technology.
Through a review of large deployable membrane antenna
structures, guidance for space membrane-antenna research
and applications is provided.
With an increasing demand for large-aperture (hundreds of
square meters or more) space-borne antennas, deployable
membrane antennas have been attracting interest in space
research areas. In comparison with traditional rigid antennas,
membrane antennas can easily achieve larger scale with
lighter weight, smaller stowage volume, and lower cost. At
present, there are two main kinds of space-borne membrane
antenna structures: parabolic and planar membrane antenna
structures. These membrane antenna structures generally
involve a membrane surface, support structures, and a
tensioning system. Since 1970, a series of explorations of
membrane antennas have been carried out in the United
States, Europe, Japan, etc. Some progress has also been
made in this domain over the past 10 years in China.
However, up until now, no membrane antennas have been
applied in space, except an American inflatable antenna with
a diameter of 14 m that had space flight experience in 1996.
It is obvious that applications of large membrane antennas in
space still face many difficulties and challenges. In order to
promote membrane antenna progress, it is necessary to
review the development of deployable membrane antenna
structures and provide guidance for space
membrane-antenna researchers. Creative design and analysis of some
deployable structures and mechanisms were presented in
], but deployable membrane antenna structures
were not considered. Although structural characteristics and
application prospects of inflatable antennas were
summarized in Refs. [
], and advances in parabolic membrane
antennas over the past decades were presented in Refs.
], characteristic comparisons were not considered
among these membrane antenna structures. Additionally,
] focused only on some special membrane
antenna structures. So far, there has been little literature
reviewing recent developments and providing a
comprehensive comparison of different membrane antenna
structures. Aimed at the problems described above, this paper
presents recent advances, characteristic comparisons,
technical problems, and future trends for large membrane
2 Advances in Deploying and Forming Methods for Parabolic Membrane Antennas
Parabolic membrane antennas are folded or wrapped when
in stowed condition. When the spacecraft reaches its orbit,
the antenna is deployed to the desired reflector surface
according to flight procedures. At present, there are five
methods for deploying and forming large parabolic
membrane antennas, which are inflation, inflation-rigidization,
elastic ribs driven, Shape Memory Polymer
(SMP)-inflation, and electrostatic forming.
A typical inflatable antenna structure is shown in Figure 1.
The antenna is deployed by an inflation system mounted
near the feed.
Since 1971, inflatable antennas with diameters of 7 m, 9
m, and 14 m have been developed by L’Garde, Inc. The 14
Figure 1 Inflatable antenna structure
m-diameter inflatable antenna was selected for the flight
experiment in May 1996 [
], and its deployment
procedure is shown in Figure 2. First, after the canister was
opened ( ?` in Figure 2), the three inflatable struts,
membrane reflector, and clear canopy were pushed away
from the canister by springs (` ? ´ in Figure 2). Second,
the struts and torus were inflated by gas provided by the
inflation system in the canister (´ ? ˆ in Figure 2).
Finally, after the struts and torus were fully inflated, the
membrane reflector and clear canopy were inflated into a
parabolic shape under inflation pressure and cable tension
force (ˆ ? ˜ in Figure 2). When the antenna was fully
deployed, the length of three struts was 28 m, and the
whole antenna mass was 60 kg. The surface accuracy (root
mean square (RMS) of axial deviation between the actual
and design value of each point on the parabolic reflector)
was measured to be 1.5 mm RMS in the central area with
radius of 4 m .
Design parameters for inflatable antennas generally
include inflation pressure, membrane thickness, elastic
modulus of membrane material, boundary conditions,
temperature, etc. In 2001, Greschik et al. [
] from the
University of Colorado, investigated the influence of
membrane thickness, membrane materials, thermal effects,
boundary perturbations, and membrane wrinkles on surface
accuracy, but the geometric differences of the membrane
reflector shape during its deformation process were not
considered in the calculation. In 2004, Naboulsi [
the Air Force Institute of Technology, carried out a detailed
study on the main structure of an inflatable antenna
(including the membrane reflector, inflatable struts, and torus)
with the software ABAQUS. The results show that at
higher inflation pressure, the surface shape error is greater,
and asymmetric inflation pressure on the inflatable torus
causes larger reflector surface deformations than
symmetrical pressure. However, the effect of membrane wrinkles
caused by the asymmetric inflation pressure on surface
accuracy was not analyzed in this paper. In 2006, Xu et al.
] from Zhejiang University, further analyzed the
influence of inflation pressure and antenna focal length on
reflector surface accuracy and proposed that surface
accuracy could be adjusted by cable tension force.
However, further studies that consider the cable deformations
during the adjustment are still necessary. In 2012, Coleman
et al. [
] from George Washington University,
investigated the influence of edge forces and reflector diameters
on reflector surface accuracy. For antennas with a diameter
greater than 10 m, the influence of internal pressure on the
surface accuracy is greater than the influence of edge
forces. However, the membrane nonlinear property was not
taken into account in the analysis. In 2015, Liu et al. [
from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics,
used the Hamilton principle to deduce the frequency
equation and mode function of inflatable antennas based on
the Donnell nonlinear thin shell theory. However, changes
in inflation pressure were ignored in the modal analysis.
In summary, the present design and analysis of
inflatable antennas only focus on research on the influence of the
relevant parameters for reflector surface accuracy. In-depth
multi-objective structure optimization analysis and
dynamic analysis of rigid-flexible coupling systems for
spacecraft with large membrane antennas are required.
Inflatable antennas show great advantages owing to their
light weights and small stowage volumes. However, the
slow gas leakage in orbit requires a gas supplement system,
leading to weight gain and short service life. Another
disadvantage is that it is difficult for inflatable antennas to
maintain the required surface accuracy under the
alternating temperature conditions in space.
In the process of inflation-rigidization, the membrane
reflector is rigidized after being inflated to the desired
parabolic shape and inflation pressure is released.
Since 1980, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the
Contraves Space Division in Switzerland have carried out a
series of studies on inflatable-rigidizable antennas.
Contraves has developed antennas with diameters of 3.5 m, 6
m, and 12 m [
], as shown in Figure 3. The membrane
reflector consisted of Kevlar fibers impregnated with a
special polymer resin, and the area density was about 0.41
kg/m2. Ground test results showed that the reflector surface
was rigidized by solar radiation in six hours at the
temperature of 110 C, and the antenna achieved 0.98 mm
RMS surface accuracy after being rigidized [
Inflatable-rigidizable antennas avoid some
disadvantages faced by inflatable antennas, including decrease in
surface accuracy, antenna performance degradation, and
the requirement for a continuous gas supplement. However,
their ability to maintain surface accuracy depends on
further improvement of rigidizable material thermal stability,
which is not good enough at present.
A fully deployed elastic ribs driven membrane antenna
] is shown in Figure 4. There are two steps
to deploy the antenna. First, elastic ribs spiraled on the
central hub release their elastic potential energy and then
stretch out to become straight lines, which are in the same
plane with the hub axis. Second, hinges installed in the
connection between the elastic ribs and the central hub
drive the elastic ribs to deploy radially like an umbrella,
thus making the membrane reflector into a paraboloid.
In 2002, Pellegrino [
] from the University of
Cambridge, developed an elastic ribs driven membrane antenna
with a diameter of 1.5 m, which achieved a surface
accuracy of 2.0 mm RMS, as shown in Figure 4. The reflector
was composed of 12 elastic ribs, a central hub, and
aluminized polyester film. When the antenna was folded, the
ribs and film were twisted on the central hub and bound by
rope. Once the rope was cut, the ribs released elastic
potential energy to drive the membrane reflector
deployment. Pellegrino designed the antenna diameter, focal
length, surface accuracy, and membrane stress distribution
and performed the deployment experiment. However,
several elastic ribs were damaged because of an improper
folding approach, and, in consequence, the 12 elastic ribs
Aluminized polyester film
were deployed simultaneously. Therefore, further study is
needed in antenna folding approaches.
Although elastic ribs driven membrane antennas are
lightweight, the stiffness and surface accuracy is relatively
low. In addition, deployment reliability is affected by
complex movements, including the cutting of the rope
before the ribs deploy and the rotation of ribs after their
elastic potential energy is released.
SMP-inflatable membrane antennas [
] are deployed and
formed by the shape memory effect of SMP materials [
and inflation. On the ground, the antenna is packed by an
external mechanical load above the glass transition
temperature of SMP material. Then, by keeping the external
load constant and the temperature below the glass
transition temperature, the antenna remains in the same state
after unloading. When the spacecraft reaches its orbit, the
membrane antenna is heated above the glass transition
temperature, and the inflatable struts are inflated according
to flight procedures. The reflector surface and torus are
deployed gradually by shape recovery and thrust provided
by the inflatable struts. Finally, the reflective surface
returns automatically to the initial parabolic shape and is
rigidized after the temperature drops below the glass
In 2007, Gaspar et al. [
] from NASA Langley
Research Center, developed one SMP-inflatable membrane
antenna, as shown in Figure 5. The antenna consisted of a
0.5 m diameter rigid parabolic reflector and a concentric
annular membrane parabolic reflector with an outer
diameter of 2 m. The area density of the SMP membrane was
about 1.4 kg/m2 and the thickness was 0.181 mm. The
reflector surface accuracy was measured to be 1 mm RMS.
James L. Gaspar et al. tested and simulated dynamic
behaviors of the antenna structure. The results show that
the first two modes are mainly determined by the tension
force of the cables between the membrane reflector and
torus and are irrelevant to the inflation pressure. However,
the antenna apertures and membrane thickness were
considered to be constant in this analysis.
SMP-inflatable membrane antenna deployment is driven
by shape memory effect and inflation, of which the former
dominates, and the antennas are rigidized after deployment.
Thus, they have high reliability and strong surface accuracy
maintaining ability. However, the heating power required
during deployment is great (an antenna with a diameter of
35 m requires power of 67.77 kW), which is difficult to
realize in the case of energy shortages.
2.5 Electrostatic Forming
The Astromesh antenna has successfully flown in space [
order to further improve its surface accuracy, a gap is made
between the membrane and the electrodes mounted on the front
net of the Astromesh antenna structure, resulting in the
formation of an electric field. Because of the electric field force,
the metal-coated membrane is suspended on the front net and
finally becomes a parabolic surface. The gap between the
electrodes and membrane can be adjusted by the electrostatic
force so as to actively control the reflector shape accuracy.
In 2004, SRS technologies and Northrop Grumman
developed a 5 m diameter electrostatic forming membrane
], as shown in Figure 6. The antenna was
composed of an Astromesh support structure, a membrane
reflecting surface, electrodes, and a control system. The area
density of the antenna structure was about 1 kg/m2, and the
surface accuracy was measured to be 1.1 mm RMS. In 2015,
Zhang et al. [
] from Xidian University, optimized electrode
configurations while taking membrane surface accuracy and
system complexity as optimal targets, but the number of
electrodes was assumed to be constant in the optimization. In
the same year, Liu et al. [
], from Xidian University,
established a theoretical model of membrane reflectors considering
the coupled structural-electrostatic problem. The membrane
surface accuracy and stress distribution uniformity were
optimized based on the model, but the support structure elastic
deformations were not taken into account in this paper.
The electrostatic-forming membrane antenna reflector
surface can be controlled in real time by adjusting
electrostatic forces, thus improving surface stability. Based on
the mature Astromesh antenna technologies, electrostatic
forming membrane antennas can theoretically be applied to
large-sized and high-precision antennas in the future.
However, the antennas require high voltage (up to several
thousand volts), which will bring electrostatic damage and
safety risks to electronic products on the spacecraft. In
addition, electrodes mounted on the front net might
increase the risk of winding among the wires, membrane,
and deployment mechanism of the support structure.
Therefore, applications of this antenna technology in
spacecraft are subject to many constraints at present.
Table 1 shows a comparison among parabolic
membrane antennas with different deploying and forming
methods. In general, advantages and disadvantages of each
one are obvious, and some technical difficulties and risks
need to be considered for space applications.
3 Membrane Materials for Parabolic Membrane
Parabolic membrane-antenna reflector materials are usually
metal-coated polymer films. There are several requirements
for the polymer film, including high elasticity modulus,
high shear strength, low density, small thickness, high
thermal stability, low thermal expansion coefficient, and
strong space radiation resistance. Membrane materials
commonly used in membrane antennas are polyester (PET)
film and polyimide (PI) film [
]. Table 2 shows some
typical performance parameters for these two kinds of
As shown in Table 2, compared with polyester film,
polyimide film has a larger modulus, higher tensile
strength, lower thermal expansion coefficient, smaller
elongation at break, and stronger anti-ultraviolet radiation
ability. Therefore, polyimide film is considered to be a
better candidate material in future space applications.
4 Development of Large Planar Membrane
Antenna Structural Configurations
A typical planar membrane antenna structure is mainly
composed of a deployable frame and a multi-layer flexible
membrane, which is supported by the frame [
multiple membrane layers are deployed to a planar
structure with the deployment of the frame and maintain the
required surface flatness through the tensioning system
between the membrane and frame. Figure 7 shows the
structural configurations of planar membrane array
antennas developed in the USA between 1998 and 2008.
In 1998, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and ILC
Dover, Inc. developed a 1 m diameter X-band planar
membrane reflect array antenna [
], as shown in
Figure 7(a). The two-layer membrane was polyimide film with
both sides clad with 0.5 lm thick copper. The frame was a
circular inflatable tube, which was connected to a tripod
supporting the antenna feed. In 2000, the two companies
co-developed a 3 m Ka-band membrane reflect array
], as shown in Figure 7(b). The horseshoe
shaped frame consisted of one straight rigid tube, two
straight tubes, and one semi-circular inflatable tube. The
membrane could be rolled on the rigid tube to avoid
creases. There were 16 catenary points distributed on the
horseshoe shaped frame to apply stress on the membrane,
and the surface flatness was measured to be ± 0.2 mm. In
2002, JPL proposed the idea of a ‘‘movie screen’’
membrane array antenna with a rectangular frame [
shown in Figure 7(c). The antenna feed was offset on the
spacecraft, which eliminated the need for a feed-supporting
tripod, resulting in a more compact structure. Two edges of
the rectangular frame were inflatable tubes, and the other
two edges were flat panels covered by roll-up shells, on
which the membrane could be tightly rolled. Several cross
bars, distributed uniformly on the membrane and employed
as compression members to stretch the membrane, had no
connection with the inflatable tubes. One constant force
spring hung on each end of the cross bar and was connected
to cables at the membrane edge. Similarly, some constant
force springs hung on the flat panel and were connected to
the cable. The membrane was deployed by the tubes
inflating and was tensioned by constant force springs after
deployment. From 2004 to 2008, JPL conducted a series of
studies on ‘‘movie screen’’ antennas [
]. In 2008, a 2.2
m 9 2.2 m planar membrane antenna was developed and
achieved a surface flatness of 0.17 mm.
In 2008, Guan et al. [
], from Zhejiang University,
developed a 2 m 9 2 m planar membrane antenna, whose
structural configuration was similar to the one in
Figure 7(c). The surface flatness was measured to be 0.32 mm.
In 2012, Li et al. [
], developed a 6 m 9 2 m L/C
dualband, single-layer planar membrane antenna, but the
deployment was not considered for this paper.
In 1998, JPL put forward the membrane synthetic
aperture radar (SAR) antenna concept [
]. In 2001,
JPL, together with L’Garde and ILC Dover, developed two
3.3 m91.0 m planar membrane passive phased array
], which consisted of three-layer membranes
and were deployed by inflatable-rigidizable booms
], as shown in Figure 8(a). The area density of the
one developed by L’Garde was 3.3 kg/m2, and the antenna
achieved ± 0.28 mm surface flatness. In 2011, JPL
developed a 2.3 m 9 2.6 m active phased array antenna
, which reduced the number of membrane layers from
three to two.
In 2007, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) developed a
2 m 9 3 m planar membrane SAR antenna with a
threelayer membrane [
], as shown in Figure 8(b). A
multibar mechanism was adopted to realize two-dimensional
antenna deployment , as shown in Figure 8(c). In 2008,
the German Aerospace Center (DLR) developed a 6
m 9 1.3 m membrane SAR antenna with a four-layer
membrane, which was deployed by rollable carbon fiber
reinforced polymer (CFRP) booms [
]. The antenna
structure configuration was similar to that in Figure 7(c),
but cables at the membrane edges were connected directly
to the CFRP booms instead of the cross bars. In 2012, in
order to avoid boom deformations caused by cable tensile
force, Straubel et al.  added cross bars to the antenna
structure and both ends of the bars were interfaced with
CFRP booms, as shown in Figure 8(d). These two parts had
no connections in Figure 7(c).
The characteristics of the above-mentioned planar
membrane antenna structural configurations are listed in
Table 3. As shown by Table 3, planar membrane antenna
frame shapes have changed from circular to horseshoe
shape to rectangular. For planar membrane reflect array
antennas with circular and horseshoe shaped frames, feeds
need to be supported by tripods, which will block part of
the electromagnetic wave reflection. Membrane antenna
structures with rectangular frames are more compact
because of the elimination of tripods. Therefore, there is an
increasing tendency to use rectangular frames. In addition,
CFRP and inflatable-rigidizable booms have good
prospects for membrane antenna deployment.
Membrane reflect array
Membrane phased array 2001
(a) Single tensioning system
(b) Miura–Natori tensioning system
(c) Double tensioning system
(d) Multi-layer tensioning system
5 Advances in Design and Analysis of Large
Planar Membrane Antennas
5.1 Design and Analysis of Tensioning System
The tensioning system, which refers to the cables between
the membrane and frame of a planar membrane antenna,
provides flexible connections between these two parts and
applies uniform stress to the membrane. If the tensioning
system is designed improperly, the membrane will tend to
wrinkle, which will impact antenna performance. In order
to reduce membrane wrinkles, different tensioning systems
have emerged, including the single tensioning system,
Miura–Natori tensioning system, double tensioning system,
and multi-layer tensioning system, as shown in Figure 9.
In 2000, Lin (of ILC Dover) et al. [
] designed the
single tensioning system, as shown in Figure 8(a). The
membrane edges are cut into curved pockets, in which
cables can move freely. Two ends of the cable are
tightened to the rectangular frame (the frame is not shown in the
figure). One pocket corresponds to two tensioning points,
and n pockets correspond to n tensioning points.
Membranes with more pockets could get more uniform stress
but the number of connection points between the
membrane and frame increases simultaneously. Lin et al. [
pointed out circular pockets could make a membrane in an
isotropic tensile stress state. In 2001, however, Fang (of
JPL) et al. [
], revealed that parabolic pockets could
reduce membrane wrinkles. For membranes with multiple
pockets, Fang et al. [
], analyzed the relationships
between the cable tension force, number of pockets, and
length of pockets. However, the effects of the pocket
number and pocket length on the membrane effective area
were not analyzed. In 2010, taking a rectangular membrane
as an example, Xiao et al. [
], from Shanghai Jiao Tong
University, compared parabolic and circular pockets with
different rise-to-span ratios (the ratio of pocket depth to
length). The results show that a membrane with parabolic
pockets gets more uniform stress distribution. Only a few
rise-to-span ratios were calculated in this paper, so the
conclusion universality needs to be further verified.
The Miura–Natori tensioning system [
] was proposed
by Koryo Miura and Michihiro Natori of the Institute of
Space and Aeronautical Science (ISAS) in 1985, as shown
in Figure 8(b). The straight rectangular membrane edges
without pockets are connected directly with tie cables,
which are connected with outer cables. Both ends of the
outer cables are tightened to the rectangular frame. This
tensioning system could reduce the number of connection
points between the frame and membrane, thus simplifying
the frame design. However, the tie cable tension force
will produce wrinkles at the membrane edges and the
wrinkles will propagate to the middle of the membrane.
Furthermore, so many tie cables will lead to cable
winding, which will increase the risk of antenna
In 2003, Sakamoto et al. [
], from the University of
Colorado, proposed the double tensioning system, as
shown in Figure 8(c). It is equivalent to a combination of
the single and Miura–Natori tensioning systems. Tie cables
are connected with both the inner cables in the pockets and
the outer cables tightened to the frame. After comparing
the single and double tensioning systems, Sakamoto et al.
], pointed out that when applying the same stress on the
membrane, the cable mass and tension force required for
the double tensioning system are smaller, and the
membrane is more resistant to wrinkling, but the risk of antenna
deployment failure still exists because of cable winding. In
this paper, the relationships between pocket parameters and
membrane anti-wrinkle ability were not analyzed. In 2008,
Guan et al. [
], from Zhejiang University, optimized the
number of pockets, aiming at minimizing the force loaded
to the frame, and revealed that odd numbers are better than
even. However, the length of the pockets and tie cables
were not optimized in this paper.
In 2005, Sakamoto et al. [
], put forward the
multilayer tensioning system, which is a combination of the
double tensioning system and a layer of tie cables, as
shown in Figure 8(d). The two layers of tie cables are
connected by some cables. Adding a layer of tie cables
reduces the impact of frame vibrations on the membrane,
but the cable mass and risk of deployment failure caused by
cable windings will increase. Sakamoto et al. [
performed response analysis of membrane structures to
external low frequency disturbances. The results show that
the multi-layer tensioning system enhanced the passive
vibration isolation effect in the boundary layers. However,
the optimal balance between the vibration isolation effect
and cable mass was not considered in this paper.
In general, in order to apply uniform stress to the
membrane, the single, double, and multi-layer tensioning
systems can meet the requirements. However, connection
points between the frame and membrane should be as few
as possible, so the single tensioning system is not
suitable for large planar membrane antennas. Double and
multi-layer tensioning systems are the development
tendency, and future studies are still needed for
multi-objective optimizations of these two tensioning systems to
reduce mass and to improve their anti-wrinkle and
5.2 Structural Dynamics
Planar membrane antenna performance is directly affected
by the surface flatness. As a typical flexible membrane
structure, its dynamic characteristics have great influence
on the surface flatness. Therefore, it is necessary to perform
dynamic analysis on planar membrane antenna structures.
In 2007, Shen (of CSA) et al. [
], conducted modal
analysis on a membrane with circular pockets with
ABAQUS and found that the fundamental frequency of the
membrane was directly proportional to the square root of
membrane stress. In 2010, Xiao et al. [
], analyzed the
fundamental frequency of rectangular membranes with
different rise-to-span ratios of pockets with ABAQUS and
pointed out that when the ratio decreased, the fundamental
frequency of the membrane decreased slightly. In 2015,
Liu et al. [
], from Xidian University, studied the
influence of pocket geometry parameters on the membrane
fundamental frequency and revealed that when the center
angle of the pockets increased, the fundamental frequency
increased. The above modal analyses only focus on the
membrane instead of the whole antenna structure, which
consists of the membrane, frames, and tensioning systems.
In 2006, Fang et al. [
] performed numerical simulations
on a model of the whole antenna structure by the
distributed transfer function method, but the membrane
structure geometric nonlinearity was not taken into
account. In 2012, Hu et al. [
], from Shanghai Jiao Tong
University, carried out modal analysis of the whole antenna
structure with ABAQUS and found that membrane stress
had a greater influence on the fundamental frequency than
area density, but the relationships between the fundamental
frequency and frame structure parameters were not
In short, most of the current dynamic analysis of planar
membrane antenna structures just focuses on antennas after
deployment and on some local parts, and the membrane
structure flexibility is ignored. Therefore, it is necessary to
engage further study on dynamics of antennas during
deployment and the rigid-flexible coupling system of the
6 Conclusions and Outlook
Based on the analyses mentioned above, the following
conclusions can be drawn.
Inflatable antennas will gradually be replaced by
inflatable-rigidizable antennas because of gas
leakage, short service life, etc.
If the cable winding probability can be reduced and
high voltage hazard can be eliminated, surface
accuracy of electrostatic forming membrane
antennas will be further improved based on existing
Astromesh antennas. Therefore, the electrostatic
forming membrane antenna will be a good candidate
for a large antenna with high precision.
Among the parabolic membrane antennas mentioned
above, the SMP-inflatable membrane antennas have
strong surface stability and high deployment
reliability. If enough power can be supplied,
SMPinflatable membrane antennas will be another
development trend for large-scale and high-precision
Polyimide film will be a good candidate for reflector
membrane materials because of its good mechanical
properties, high thermal stability, and strong
Frame shapes of planar membrane reflect array
antennas tend to be rectangular.
Both CFRP and inflatable-rigidizable booms have
promising futures in membrane SAR antenna
The double and multi-layer tensioning systems have
the advantages of reducing the number of connection
points between the frame and membrane and
improving the anti-wrinkle and anti-vibration ability
of membrane structures. Therefore, they will be
widely used in future large planar membrane antenna
In order to realize the space applications of large
membrane antennas, the following technical problems should be
6.2.1 Design and Analysis of Membrane Structures
In order to determine the shape of membrane to be
cut, an inverse solution to the configuration of a
membrane structure in the unstressed state should be
obtained based on its desired configuration under the
Multi-parameter and multi-objective optimizations
of the high precision membrane antenna structures
should be performed considering the membrane
material creep property and structural nonlinearity.
Membrane wrinkle numerical simulation [
aimed at large membrane antenna structures should
be studied so that the specific locations and intensity
of membrane wrinkles caused by external
perturbations can be obtained, which is necessary
for large membrane antenna structural design.
Dynamics of rigid-flexible coupling systems, such as
spacecraft structures with large membrane antenna
structures, need to be further studied, along with the
dynamics of antennas in the deployment process.
Further research about the effects of
mechanicalthermal-electrical coupling factors on membrane
antenna surface accuracy should be emphasized.
6.2.2 Materials and Processes
Wider size polyimide film manufacturing
technologies should be developed to prevent membrane
wrinkles, which generally exist in the connecting
areas between small pieces.
Polyimide film with a smaller thermal expansion
coefficient and quality loss in space should be
developed to improve membrane antenna
dimensional stability and endurance in orbit.
Technologies for metal coating on large polyimide
film surfaces need to be further investigated to
reduce the effect of non-uniformity on surface
accuracy and reflectivity of the membrane reflector.
It is necessary to further improve the performance
stability and service life in orbit of current composite
materials used in support structures and to develop
new composite materials with higher stiffness and
lighter mass for larger scale support structures.
6.2.3 Packing Methods for Membrane Antennas
Packing methods for membrane antennas should be
studied, so that antenna storage volume and packing
complexity can be reduced with no electronic device damage
6.2.4 Surface Accuracy Stability in Orbit
The surface accuracy maintaining system consists of a
surface measuring system [
], a control system, and
actuators placed on the reflector surface [
]. It is
necessary to look for a way to increase the measuring
system accuracy, improve the control system algorithms
that consider membrane material creep properties and
structural nonlinearity, and optimize the actuator numbers
6.2.5 Test and Verification Technology
It is important to develop a method for minimizing the
effect of ground microgravity simulation systems on the
experimental measurement results for lightweight and
flexible membrane antenna structures in the future.
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Zhi-Quan Liu , born in 1963, is currently a professor and a PhD candidate supervisor at China Academy of Space Technology , China.
He received his PhD degree from Harbin Institute of Technology, China , in 1996 , completed post-doctoral study at Northwestern Polytechnical University, China, in 1998 . His research interests include spacecraft structure and mechanism design, spacecraft reliability technology . Tel: ? 86 - 10 -68747342; E-mail: .
Hui Qiu, born in 1992, is currently a master student at China Academy of Space Technology, China. She received her bachelor degree from School of Astronautics , Beihang University, China, in 2010 . Her research interests include spacecraft structure and mechanism design . Tel: ? 86 - 10 -68745721; E-mail:.
Xiao Li , born in 1982, is currently an engineer at China Academy of Space Technology, China. He received his master degree from Beihang University, China, in 2005 . His research interests include mechanical design and analysis . Tel : ? 86 - 10 -68111279; E-mail: lixiao_cast@hotmail .com.
Shu-Li Yang , born in 1982, is currently an engineer at China Academy of Space Technology, China. She received her PhD degree from China Academy of Space Technology, China , in 2014 . Her research interests include spacecraft structure and mechanism design .
Tel : ? 86 - 10 -68745717; E-mail: cast5041@gmail .com.