This paper describes the development of an inflatable concentrator for solar propulsion, providing the source of heat to a hydrogen engine aboard the Solar Rocket. The latter is a device designed to carry payloads from a low earth orbit (LEO) to a geosynchronous orbit (GEO) at significant mass savings in comparison to chemical propulsion; it involves two lightweight parabolic reflectors in an off-axis configuration focusing solar radiation into the absorbers of the engine, which causes the emission of a hot hydrogen jet. Each of the reflectors has an elliptical rim with a 40 m major axis, providing heat to the propellant sufficient to produce about 40 lbs. of thrust. The same concentrator concept is contemplated for space power application—to focus solar radiation on a conversion device, e.g., a photovoltaic array or the high temperature end of a dynamic engine. Under the present project, a one-fourth scale, 9×7 m off-axis inflatable concentrator has been under development as a pilot for the full-scale flight unit. The reflector component consists of a reflective membrane made of specially designed gores and a geometrically identical transparent canopy. The two form together an inflatable lens like structure which, upon inflation, assumes the accurate paraboloidal shape. This inflatable structure is supported along its rim by a strong, bending-resistant torus. The paper describes the development of this system including the analysis leading to determination of the gore shapes, the reflector membrane design and testing, the analysis of the supporting torus, and a discussion of the effects of the space environment.

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