Inflatable Solar Arrays: Revolutionary Technology? 1999-01-2551
Recent technological advancements in space inflatable structures, in the areas of material rigidization and controlled deployment, have presented a new possibility to the space community with a low cost, lightweight alternative to mechanically deployed space structures. Space inflatable structures have many benefits and advantages over current mechanical systems. They are low in mass and can be packaged into small volumes, which can potentially reduce the overall program cost by reducing the launch vehicle size. Reduction in total system mass and deployment complexity can also increase system reliability.
This new technology is fast becoming a reality, especially in the field of inflatable solar arrays and other applications for spacecraft components. Many solar array applications such as the Mars rover inflatable solar array, the JPL Deep Space Four (ST4) inflatable blanket solar array, and the Teledesic blanket solar array have been developed and prototypes have been built and tested. Several flight experiments are underway and will be flown in the very near future.