Non-Linear Analysis of the NASA Super Pressure Balloons: Whole Flight Simulations


Tensys have a long-established background in the shape generation and load analysis of architectural stressed membrane structures. Founded upon their inTENS finite element analysis suite, these activities have broadened to encompass 'lighter than air' structures such as aerostats, airships, hybrid air vehicles and stratospheric balloons. Tensys have acted as consultants to the NASA Super Pressure Balloon (SPB) Program since 2004. Previous papers have focussed upon the application of inTENS to the overall structural and stability analysis of pumpkin type balloons as used in the SPB Program. Particular emphasis has been placed upon the ability to study both stress and stability at all stages of a flight. As the program has developed, increasing modelling fidelity has been introduced as design refinement has moved emphasis from the overall shape to the performance of individual details. Examples include the introduction of a contact capability into inTENS to better represent the separate cap layer of film. Localised investigations have considered the consequence of local geometric anomalies introduced during fabrication and the effects of debonding of the PBO tendon within its sleeve. Analysis to date has used a material model for the polyethylene shell film developed by Dr Rand of Winzen Engineering, supported by a program of fine resolution material tests at the Balloon Research and Development Laboratory (BRDL) at the GSFC Wallops Island Facility. Based upon work first reported by Schapery, this model has been incorporated into so-called 'snapshot' analyses within inTENS. For a given elapsed time point and temperature distribution, non-linear material properties are iteratively updated for the current stress state in each individual element until changes in those material properties are insignificant. This process has to be iterative as the film stresses and material properties are interdependent. Attempts to derive a time-stepping incremental viscoelastic capability using the Schapery Rand model encountered problems when dealing with the varying temperatures associated with balloon deployment, pressurisation and diurnal behaviour. An alternative approach has been developed by Pellegrino et al at Caltech, again with support from the NASA Balloon Program Office. This is a large strain non-linear viscoelastic model that includes film out-of-plane mechanical and thermal effects. Working from a unified base, this model can be utilised for time-stepping analyses in both a modulus or compliance mode, or a combination of both. This new capability is intended to enhance the current NASA balloon design process. This paper presents the implementation of the Caltech model into a specialist finite element suite, inTENS and its application to whole flight simulations

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