Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Hanspeter Schaub

Second Advisor

Zoltan Sternovsky

Third Advisor

Kurt Maute

Fourth Advisor

Dejan Filipovic

Fifth Advisor

Daniel Moorer


Membrane space structures provide a lightweight and cost effective alternative to traditional mechanical systems. The low-mass and high deployed-to-stored volume ratios allow for larger structures to be launched, expanding on-orbit science and technology capabilities. This research explores a novel method for deployment of membrane space structures using electrostatic pressure as the inflation mechanism. Applying electric charge to a layered gossamer structure provides an inflationary pressure due to the repulsive electrostatic forces between the charged layers. The electrostatic inflation of membrane structures (EIMS) concept is particularly applicable to non-precision structures such as sunshields or drag de-orbiting devices. This research addresses three fundamental topics: necessary conditions for EIMS in a vacuum, necessary conditions for EIMS in a plasma, and charging methods. Vacuum demonstrations show that less than 10 kiloVolts are required for electrostatic inflation of membrane structures in 1-g. On-orbit perturbation forces can be much smaller, suggesting feasible voltage requirements. Numerical simulation enables a relationship between required inflation pressure (to offset disturbances) and voltage. 100's of Volts are required for inflation in geosynchronous orbits (GEO) and a few kiloVolts in low Earth orbit (LEO). While GEO plasma has a small impact on the EIMS performance, Debye shielding at LEO reduces the electrostatic pressure. The classic Debye shielding prediction is far worse than actual shielding, raising the `effective' Debye length to the meter scale in LEO, suggesting feasibility for EIMS in LEO. Charged particle emission and remote charging methods are explored as inflation mechanisms. Secondary electron emission characteristics of EIMS materials were determined experimentally. Nonlinear fits to the Sternglass curve determined a maximum yield of 1.83 at 433 eV for Aluminized Kapton and a maximum yield of 1.78 at 511 eV for Aluminized Mylar. Remote charging was demonstrated to -500 V with a 5 keV electron beam. Charge emission power levels are below 1 Watt in GEO and from 10's of Watt to a kiloWatt in LEO.