This paper presents an investigation into the structural characterization of tensegrity systems for potential use as aircraft structures, especially for morphing aircraft. Morphing aircraft provide multi-role and multi-mission capabilities by adapting their performance to different in-flight requirements. Flexible elements must be included within the structure to permit morphing capabilities compared to conventional single mission aircraft, which are designed for high rigidity and not ideal for shape morphing applications.
Tensegrity systems are structures that consist of a series of connected cables, in tension, and struts, in compression, that exist in a self-equilibrium state. Since the struts and cables are loaded axially, external loads are efficiently distributed throughout the tensegrity components resulting in a strong and stiff structure. Adjusting the pretension of the tensegrity will tailor the structural characteristics as needed without a basic configuration change. By changing the length of the cables or struts, tensegrity systems are capable of movement while maintaining their inherent strength and rigidity. This makes tensegrity systems an attractive candidate for morphing aircraft structures.
This paper quantifies the strength and rigidity of a single module of various tensegrity systems along with traditional structures to assess their ability to serve as aircraft wings. Those properties are evaluated after boundary conditions are carefully selected to avoid adding unnecessary stiffness. Lastly, a concept for a tensegrity morphing aircraft wing is presented.