There are many reasons why these very thin and highly flexible structures are being studied in these last decades, especially for small size satellites. Among them, the reduced mass and higher efficiency packing volume of the structure, allows the storage of a bigger size payload in the same available volume. This is very important especially on cubesats, since they are subject to very strict volume and mass limits. Moreover, if a bulk structure can be substituted with a flexible one, the overall mass and volume of the satellite are reduced and this translates into savings in terms of launch costs.
Nevertheless, the high flexibility and thinness of the structure itself implies very low first natural frequencies, that are not suitable for many applications. This means that the structure requires a tensioning, stiffening or control system. So far, these structures have always been considered to be tensioned systems, by means of different solutions: inflatable booms, bi-stable deployable structures or similar. Sometimes stresses are controlled through smart actuators and sensed through smart sensors. These transducers can effectively suppress vibrations and control the system if placed in appropriate positions. This has been studied widely, but in most cases with stiffer and bulk or tensioned structures (e.g. by means of cables).
In previous studies, we simulated a satellite with two very large solar panels, subjected to typical LEO disturbances. The results showed that increasing the stiffness (in other words the thickness) of the appendages induced higher disturbances in the satellite body than locally controlling the appendages with a thinner system.
What we propose is a control system that makes use of piezoelectric patches placed on very thin polyimide film, without using a tensioning system. This allows to reduce the vibrations and to control the panel.