Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Suzanne Weaver Smith

Second Advisor

Dr. John R. Baker


The incorporation of inflatable structures into aerospace systems can produce significant advantages in stowed volume to mechanical effectiveness and overall weight. Many applications of these ultra-lightweight systems are designed to precisely control internal or external surfaces, or both, to achieve desired performance. The modeling of these structures becomes complex due to the material nonlinearities inherent to the majority of construction materials used in inflatable structures. Furthermore, accurately modeling the response and behavior of the interfacing boundaries that are common to many inflatable systems will lead to better understanding of the entire class of structures. The research presented involved using nonlinear finite element simulations correlated with photogrammetry testing to develop a procedure for defining material properties for commercially available polyurethane-coated woven nylon fabric, which is representative of coated materials that have been proven materials for use in many inflatable systems. Further, the new material model was used to design and develop an inflatable pathfinder system which employs only internal pressure to control an assembly of internal membranes. This canonical inflatable system will be used for exploration and development of general understanding of efficient design methodology and analysis of future systems. Canonical structures are incorporated into the design of the phased pathfinder system to allow for more universal insight. Nonlinear finite element simulations were performed to evaluate the effect of various boundary conditions, loading configurations, and material orientations on the geometric precision of geometries representing typical internal/external surfaces commonly incorporated into inflatable pathfinder system. The response of the inflatable system to possible damage was also studied using nonlinear finite element simulations. Development of a correlated material model for analysis of the inflatable pathfinder system has improved the efficiency of design and analysis techniques of future inflatable structures.