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The interaction of structural dynamics with the orbital mechanics of Solar Power Satellites



Organisational Unit
Activity Type
Implementation progress
01 October 2021

Duration: 12 months

Solar Power Satellites (SPS) represent a new class of satellites, orders of magnitude larger than any other man made satellite. A SPS in geosynchronous orbit providing 2 GW of power on the Earth will have overall dimensions measured in kilometres and mass in kilo Tonnes. Given the size of SPS there is a potential for their structural dynamics to couple into their orbit mechanics, leading to the need for orbit correction. In addition to the scale of such structures there is also considerable challenge to be met in maintaining their shape and integrity when on orbit due to the tendency of any large orbiting structure to undergo various dynamically induced deformations [1]. In addition, we also have the susceptibility of orbiting structures to the effects of cyclical thermoelasticity [2]. It has been shown [1] in models of large space-webs, that they will deform considerably when in orbit, and that the smallest perturbation can lead to very significant shape changes of the whole structure. The economics of Space Based Solar Power is dominated by the launch costs.  Therefore, there is an imperative to reduce the mass of the material transported into orbit. It is likely that SPS will have sparse flexible structures.
To design mass-optimised SPS it will be necessary to understand the requirements for the stiffness and damping of their structures. This study will investigate the magnitude of the coupling between the orbit mechanics and the structural properties of the satellites, leading to the development of design rules for SPS structures to minimise the effect.
  • [1] McKenzie, D.J., Cartmell, M.P., Modelling of tethered space-web structures, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 61, 1, pp 24-31, 2008.
  • [2] Ganilova, O.A., Cartmell, M.P., Kiley, A., The development of a dynamic coupled model for aluminium composite sandwich plates under thermo-elastic loading, 2nd International Nonlinear Dynamics Conference, NODYCON21, Sapienza University, February 16-19, 2021.
Contract number
OSIP Idea Id
Related OSIP Campaign
Solar Power Satellites Campaign
University of Strathclyde
Main application area