A new, general and consistent mathematical model of highly modular character is presented for calculation of the equilibrium and associated load distribution in rolling element bearings. The bearings may be loaded and displaced in five degrees of freedom. High speed rolling element loading is considered, internal friction is neglected, the material is assumed linearly elastic and the bearing rings are modelled as rigid except for local contact deformation. Either classical Hertzian contact analysis or modern non-Hertzian contact analysis of sophisticated or approximate character is used as applicable. The bearing stiffness matrix is computed analytically and used internally in the iterative bearing equilibrium calculation; its final values may be used for other purposes such as (rotor) dynamics analysis. In Part I, the general theory and application to ball bearings is presented. In Part II, application of the general theory to roller bearings and an experimental verification are presented.

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