Source of Acquisition NASA Washington, D. C.

An Educational Publication of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration NF-129

The Next Step: Large Space S t r u c k ~ ~

Figure 1. Giant 100-meter diameter hoop-column or "maypole" antenna fully deployed in space.
1992: They float high andsilent in the cold blackness of space. They seem enormous to us, but then our human scale does not count for much up here. Only a few people have in fact ever seen them in theirfinal working shapes, even though all of us on Earth use them constantly, every day They are the wheel-like antennas with dishes 100 meters across and masts as tall as the Statue of Liberty-radio relays for a world drawn closer by the awesome ability to communicate instantly, anywhere, anytime. And they are the sprawling, gangly platforms-power modules, tool sheds, scientific workshops in space. Hard to believe there was a time when we could launch only simple furniture-sized satellites. One of these giant antennas down on Earth would easily shade the Roman Coliseum. They are among the largest structures ever built, and they have mightily changed the world of the 1990s.

'

barge Space Structures

Now that we have a Space Shuttle to move large and bulky cargoes routinely into Earth orbit, long-term planners and researchers in government, industry, and universities are shaping the work for a new erathe building of very large and complicated structures in space. Although enormous themselves, these new antennas and space platforms will actually serve to shrink the total costs of launching satellites for a wide range of scientific and commercial uses, and will dramatically improve our worldwide communications network. The Shuttle Orbiter's closed cargo bay carries up to 29,500 kilograms (32 tons, or three times the weight of a passenger bus) on each trip into space. Freight costs are charged both by weight and by length, so it will be wise to design space hardware that is both light and short. Structures that would have been too fragile to stand up under their own weight on Earth will now be able to fold up in the cargo bay and deploy safely into their final shapes in the weightlessness of space. And the new capability tosupervise this deployment and construction in orbit will be crucial-the Shuttle will carry a work force of up to seven people into space on each one of its frequent flights, and will remain close at hand while the jobs are done. All of this creates exciting new possibilities for the engineering of space hardware, and poses a brand new set of challenges. What are the strongest, lightest, and most stable materials to use in space construction? How do you load the Shuttle so as to build these colossal objects with the fewest trips into space? What are the best ways to assemble them once the materials are delivered to the orbiting "sites"? And the most obvious question: What kinds of structures will we build? Eventually we will want manned space stations and huge solar power collectors. But for the time frame of the late 1980s and 1990s, planners are concentrating on two main classes: Large Space Antennas and Multipurpose Space Platforms.
Large Antennas: Bigger, Stronger, Fewer

found, and not yet fully explored. Many ideas and technologies do already exist: working models of personal "Dick Tracy" wrist radios; designs for electronic mail systems with home delivery via satellite; 300-channel TV sets tuned to stations all over the world. And there will be non-communications applications, like the remote sensing of mineral deposits, ocean resources, and soil moisture to improve agriculture, navigation, fishing, and mining; radar for military surveillance or weather monitoring; tracking deep space probes like Voyager or scanning distant galaxies with orbiting radio antennas; even reflecting light or solar power back to Earth from low-orbit. The task now facing engineers is to set this fantastic revolution in motion by designing, testing, and placing these large structures in space.
Deployable Antennas The first large space antennas will be deployables. They will fold into compact containers on Earth, go up whole in one Shuttle trip, then deploy automatically in space in a single operation. The key, obviously, is to have the largest possible dish unfolding from the smallest and lightest possible package. One type, the hoop-column or "maypole" antenna, would open up in orbit much as an umbrella does. A cylinder no bigger than a school bus could be transformed within an hour into a gigantic antenna dish 100 meters across (two acres in area). Depending on the length of thevarious strings that stretch the fabric taut inside its stiff outer hoop, this type of antenna can be designed for many shapesthat is, the bowl of the dish could be made flat, more hollowed out, or even made of four different surfaces, each focusing a beam in its own different direction. Multi-beam feeds could also allow one antenna to do the work of several by pointing signals toward different areas of the Earth's surface below. In another type, the offset wrap-rib type of antenna, the dish fabric is attached to flexible ribs that wrap around a central hub. The whole package is at first quite compact, but once in space another miraculous transformation in size takes place. A long (about 150 meters for a 100-meter-wide dish) mast telescopes out from the core and turns a corner so that the dish is offset and not blocked by the mast, an advantage in sensitive radar and radiometry missions. Then, like a pinwheel coming to life, the ribs unfurl and straighten until they fully extend to stretch and support a round dish. Other designs have also been explored, like the wire-wheel antennas that resemble huge bicycle wheels, or the TRAC (Truss Radial-Rib Antenna Configuration) antenna that radiates spokes from a core to support a dish in its final roundness. Materials

In 1974, listeners in remote regions of Appalachia, Alaska, and the Rockies heard a new voice from above, and in that same moment joined the modern world. The reason was ATS-6, a nine-meter-wide dish antenna that relayed TV signals down to small receivers in previously isolated areas of the United States. ATS-6 was the largest civilian communications dish launched in the pre-Shuttle era. Some of the new super-antennas will be ten times that size, bigger than a football field! This tremendous size means a boost in transmitting power as well as an increased sensitivity to weak signals from the ground. And so, instead of having massive dishes on Earth straining to hear weak messages from space as we do today, the roles will be reversed. A few super-antennas placed in high geostationary orbits to cover the globe will replace countless smaller satellites in space. And millions of inexpensive home rooftop dishes will receive the satellite signals now picked up by only a few very large and powerful ground stations. The implications of this coming boom in antenna performance for change in our daily lives are pro-

Whatever their shape, these large space structures will put great demands on the materials from which they are made. Even though they'll be free from the weight stresses imposed by Earth's gravity, there will be other strains from their tight packaging and from the hostile radiation and frigid temperatures of space. Engineers will need to build with new materials for a new age-materials that are at the same time light, super-strong, flexible or rigid (depending on the use), and thermally stable. Telescoping masts must

be light, yet stay very stiff. Antenna ribs need to be strong, but should be flexible enough to wrap around their hub. And everything needs to remain fixed in position equally well in the hot Sun as in cold shadow, because if a structure were to expand with heat it would ruin the extremely precise shape of an antenna (some of which can be off no more than a few millimeters in a total diameter of 100 meters). One substance that meets these hard demands quite well is the graphite-epoxy composite now used in lightweight tennis rackets, golf clubs, airplane parts, and in the Space Shuttle itself. A three-meterlong hollow tube of this material can be lifted with one finger, yet for its purpose is ten times stronger than steel. Other materials suit specific jobs. The hundreds of threads that pull and stretch a hoop-column antenna into shape might be made of a quartz filament, because quartz is very stable. The dishes themselves should be made of fabrics that fold like cloth before they are deployed. These would be metal meshes woven like nylon stockings or soft porch screening and coated with gold for ref1ectivity.A finer mesh will be used for dishes that deal in smaller wavelengths. For very small wavelengths there are ultra-thin membranes made of transparent films coated with metals that look and feel like sheets of Christmas tinsel.
~latforases: Osrtp~lsts %he in Sky

Suppose that five different groups want to fly scientific or remote sensing instruments in Earth orbit, all at about the same height and inclination to the equator. Why not, instead of cluttering the sky with five individual satellites, build a huge platform to which all five can be attached? They could share the

Figure 3. Offset wrap-rib antenna deployed in space.

Figure 2. Deployment sequence for 100 meterdiameter hoop-column [maypole) antenna.

cost of power and communications systems, stability control, and cooling devices. Shuttle astronauts would need to make just one repair stop at a time instead of five, and could replace any of the original five devices with a new one as needed. It seems a sound and economical idea. Such a good idea, in fact, that Multipurpose Space Platforms are now being designed for the late 1980s. The possible uses for these platforms are almost as varied as their sizes and shapes. Any of these might be "plugged in" to a typical one: an astronomical telescope, a communications dish, a sensor to trace air pollution or search for minerals. As Figures 5 and 6 show, platforms will not be just simple rectangular slabs. There are bird-like configurations with cross arms to hold sensitive instruments apart from one another. There are modules, like large rafts, that would support several instrument pallets in a cluster. The only common element will be the central "bus" that houses the platform's power generator (attached to wing-like solar collectors) and thermal and electronic systems. Some of these platforms, especially those with communications antennas, will need to hover in geostationary orbits 35,900 kilometers above the Earth in order to look down on large sections of the globe or to stay fixed in one spot (as seen from the ground). So will many of the super-antennas. Since the Shuttle orbiter itself flies no higher than a few hundred kilometers, rockets can be attached either to an undeployed package right out of the cargo bay or to an already assembled structure to boost it higher. Eventually, no matter how cleverly the platforms and antennas are packed, they will be too large to unfold in a single deployable unit. At that point we will have to send up these "erectables" in separate pieces. Two such pieces (or a dozen, or even a hundred) can be loaded into the cargo bay on Earth, lifted into space, unfolded, and finally assembled into a single gigantic structure in orbit. What kinds of building blocks will we use on these floating construction sites? Ideally they should be basic, simple, and adaptable to many different kinds of structure. For example, twenty deployable boxes could be latched together to form a simple flat platform. Or several of the raft-like modules shown in Figure 8could be snapped together to form a still larger surface. All of these have their roots in common household objects-in collapsible cardboard boxes, folding deck chairs, telescoping car radio antennas, accordion baby gates-anything we have tried to make smaller and more portable. Masts for dish antennas will telescope into their full lengths from small cylinders. Latticed trusses will store as flat packages, unfold first into diamond shapes then finally into tetrahedrons. But in each case, no matter how flexible their hinges when stored, the modules must hold stiff when deployed, as would the hexagonal pieces for large antennas. Looking a bit like mini-trampolines when unfolded, these hexagons will be attached precisely and rigidly to form great reflecting surfaces many city blocks in area. Not all of these potential building blocks will need to unfold. Some of them will store quite easily just as they are, like the light graphite-epoxy tubes that will stack inside one another like ice cream cones and sit on racks in the cargo bay like arrows in a

Figure 4. Engineers at the NASA Langley Research Center experiment with assembling possible structures for space use out of lightweight graphite epoxy composite cones.

Figure 5. A basic orbital science platform features a power supply, communications and electronic equipment, and a heat radiator. Science experiments for the platform will be brought to orbit by the Space Shuttle and returned to Earth at their completion.

Figure 6. Geostationary science platforms are placed in orbits, high above Earth, that permit them to be synchronized with Earth's rotation.

quiver. These tubes would then be attached to form struts-struts that can themselves be joined to build larger beams or trusses. Or they might be used to form a thin hoop for a space antenna. Highly adaptable to many creative shapes, these struts will be like giant tinkertoys for the practical construction projects in space.

Deployable antennas will, in a sense, build themselves-they will unfold with the push of a button. "Erectables" will not. Someone or something will have to snap the separate pieces together. Ongoing assembly projects (some of these structures will require several Shuttle trips to deliver all the pieces) will therefore mean having the first construction sites in space, and so a new type of work for the human race. At various NASA Centers, researchers are now determining the most efficient ways to do the deployment and assembly jobs of the Shuttle era. The testing is done underwater in a cavernous, vaguely eerie Neutral Buoyancy Tank that simulates to the best of our ability the weightless conditions of space. Technicians here practice the mechanical tasks necessary for the construction of these gargantuan space structures.

Figure 8. Deployment sequence of a space platform.

Figure 7. Segments of a modular antenna are removed from the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle by remote manipulator arms and are unfolded before being attached to the main structure.

5

Figure 9. Space-suited divers experiment with building techniques for future large space structures in the Neutral Bouyancy Simulator at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. The giant water tank approximates the weightless condition of Earth orbit. Many factors are taken into account: safety and fatigue of the astronauts; speed in moving from one place to another; the requirement for simple tools and the need to restrain them so they don't float away; how much time the Space Shuttle loses lingering around the "site" when it could be returning to Earth for another load. In one method of assembly, astronauts tethered to the Shuttle would simply move from beam to column to module, manually snapping, locking, or latching everything together. Their travel time could be shortened by wearing the jet-packs called Manned Maneuvering Units, models of which are used in Neutral Buoyancy Tank simulations. But it is not yet certain how we will combine manpower, machine operations, deployment, or assembly jobs to build these antennas and platforms. For some projects it might be more efficient to move astronauts around on a scaffold in a Mobile Work Station (Figure 10) instead of having them fly all over. The scaffold rests on a frame in the cargo bay and moves either up-down or right-left.As sections of the structure are finished they are moved away from the station so that the part to be built is always in reach. Astronauts might also stand in open cherry-pickers attached to the Shuttle's 15-meter Remote Manipulator Arm, and be moved from beam joint to beam joint like telephone linemen working on high wires. Even more sophisticated would be the closed cherrypickers where workers inside a comfortable chamber would work with remote control arms. Or, for repetitious or dangerous tasks, unmanned free-flying teleoperators-essentially programmed robots-could do the work with their own mechanical arms. There might also be assembler devices to form three-dimensional structures from struts by following simple repeatable steps, and the Maneuverable Television (MTV) units that would transmit pictures to technicians in the Shuttle control room so that they could direct work by remote control. These devices will most likely be used later in the Shuttle era. In the meantime, astronauts will have to learn to erect structures the size of large stadiums in the peculiar world of low gravity. Seemingly easy tasks will become complicated-workers trying to turn ordinary bolts will be as likely to turn themselves as the bolts, thanks to the lack of leverage that comes with weightlessness. These are precisely the problems studied during simulated assembly jobs in the Neutral Buoyancy Tank, and they in turn influence the choice of technology, like using latches that snap firmly together with one quick motion instead of a series of twists and turns. The goal is to $tandardize hardware and assembly methods in order to get the jobs done as quickly and correctly as possible.
Space Fabrication: The Automated Beam Builder

After the deployables, and after the erectables, the next logical step is to build large structures ~om~pletely from scratch by fabricating the building blocks in space.

Figure 10. An automated beam builder fabricating triangular-shaped truss beams from the cargo bay of a Space Shuttle Orbiter. Reprintedwith permission of Grurnman
Aerospace HORIZONS Magazine.

A machine for that very purpose has already been designed. Called the Automated Beam Builder, it will sit at one end of the Shuttle's cargo bay. Spools of ultra-light material, probably graphite-epoxy or metal matrix composites, would be loaded into the machine on Earth and carried into orbit. Once at the space construction site the Beam Builder would heat, shape, and weld the material into meter-wide triangular beams that might be cut to any length, then latched together to build large structures. By loading the cargo bay with extra spools, enough material could be carried up in one trip to build thousands of meters of beams! Now, with the beam builder, we will advance from the dreams of science fiction to practical blueprints for colossal structures that will dwarf the Space Shuttle flying around them. As the platforms grow in size, they will carry more science instruments and will grow even more gangly with their cross arms, dishes, and wing-like solar panels. And everything will become more complicated. The need to control and maintain a perfectly still attitude is crucial to antennas and remote sensing instruments which would be useless unless pointed exactly. This means that these mammoth structures will not be able to wobble or bend out of alignment. Several things will conspire to push them out of kilter, because as large as these objects will be, they will also be relatively light and flimsy. (Compare NASA's 64-meter antenna dish in Goldstone, California with a space antenna). The solid ground dish,

with its heavy supports and concrete base, has a mass of 7,260 metric tons. A 50-meter space antenna would have a mass in the range of 4.5 metric tons. The whole structure could be pushed out of alignment by the steady, streaming pressure of solar wind against its large area and every time a Shuttle docked with one of these large platforms or made any physical contact, the delicate balance would again be upset. Some structures will be so very large that they will feel tidal effects as if they were minimoons, with gravity tugging harder on one edge than on the other. Clearly we will need precise and sophisticated controls for stability, beginning with sensors to indicate just when the structure is moving out of line. Onboard computers would then determine how to compensate, and finally small gas jets located around the structure would fire to make the necessary corrections. All of this would be a constant, selfregulating process. The need for strict attitude control extends to the Space Shuttle as well, because while it is still attached to structures under construction it will act as part of the whole configuration. Added support arms will therefore be needed to hold these massive antennas and platforms firmly to the Shuttle while they are being built.

Figure 1 1 . Using Space Shuttles and advanced heavy lift launch vehicles to transport materials,equipment, and crew, kilometer-sizestructures such as this space solar power station may someday be erected.

1992: These antennas andplatforms were only designed
ten years ago. Engineers used computers to whittle away at the options and build their working models. The models that seemed most promising were tested further-underwatel; in soundless chambers, and in great warehouses where they were jiggled, twisted, measured, and calibrated. Finally, when all was right, came the launches. Those giants have changed both worlds-above and below the atmosphere-and in building them we have

learned much. Now our sights are set on settling space. Manned space stations and great solar power collectors will bridge us nicely into the next century, when Earthorbit may become a permanent human domain, an expansion of the planet's biosphere. But before cities, before even "log cabins," came the large space structures, the antennas and platforms of the early Shuttle era.

Classroom a~%ivstoes
1. Research and compare communications satellite

technology of the 1960s '70% and '80s. 2. List objects that share the qualities of collapsibility and portability with large space antennas and platforms. How did they come to be developed? What other objects may be developed in a similar fashion in the future? 3. Keeping in mind loading constraints on the Space Shuttle, how antenna surfaces are shaped, crew limitations, etc., describe, step by step, how the structures pictured in this booklet might be deployed and/or assembled in space. 4. Compare the capabilities of 100-meter antennas

with the smaller space antennas now being used. How are they different? Compile a bibliography on the possible applications of Large Space Antennas. 5. Describe a typical working day in the life of an astronaut building a large structure in space. 6. Build a space platform model from commercially available building sticks or blocks, from toothpicks connected to styrofoam, etc. Take into account its instrument load, need for electrical power, and the stowing of component parts. 7. Read a current science fiction novel or see a science fiction film that involves large space structures and write a critique of the hardware creat$d for the story.
a U. S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE :
1982 375-012

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Ofate IT'ashington, D.C. 20402

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful