Inflated beams are part of the inflatable structures family. These structures are characterised by being made from a relatively thin skin which, unless pre-stressed, has very little capacity to bear compressive loads. In order to provide some more general knowledge of this family of structures, an overview is given of the various applications and related technologies.
In aeronautical engineering inflatable structures can be found in applications such as airships and inflatable wings. Equipping unmanned small aircraft with inflatable wings may reduce the weight and may be beneficial over rigid systems in term of energy consumption during wing deployment. A number of research projects have been undertaken since the mid nineteen-eighties in relation to using inflatable technology in space. Some of these projects have resulted in actual flight experiments. Typical research areas are: wrinkling behaviour; static and dynamic mechanical behaviour; surface accuracy; and deployment modelling and control. The analysis of inflated beams as is the topic of this thesis focuses on static mechanical behaviour and optimisation for minimum deflection using the same volume of material.