Shape memory polymers (SMPs) are a new type of smart material, they perform large reversible deformation with a certain external stimulus (e.g., heat and electricity). The properties (e.g., stiffness, strength and other mechanically static or quasi-static load-bearing capacity) are primarily considered for conventional resin-based composite materials which are mainly used for structural materials. By contrast, the mechanical actuating performance with finite deformation is considered for the shape memory polymers and their composites which can be used for both structural materials and functional materials. For shape memory polymers and their composites, the performance of active deformation is expected to further promote the development in smart active deformation structures, such as deployable space structures and morphing wing aircraft. The shape memory polymer composites (SMPCs) are also one type of High Strain Composite (HSC).
The space deployable structures based on carbon fiber reinforced shape memory polymer composites (SMPCs) show great prospects. Considering the problems that SMPCs are difficult to meet the practical applications in space deployable structures in the recent ten years, this paper aims to research the mechanics of deformation, actuation and failure of SMPCs. In the overall view of the shape memory polymer material’s nonlinearity (nonlinearity and stress softening in the process of pre-deformation and recovery, relaxation in storage process, irreversible deformation), by the multiple verifications among theory, finite element and experiments, one obtains the deformation and actuation mechanism for the process of “pre-deformation, energy storage and actuation" and its non-fracture constraint domain. Then, the parameters of SMPCs will be optimized. Theoretical analysis is realized by the strain energy function, additionally considering the interaction strain energy between the fiber and the matrix. For the common resin-based or soft-material-based composites under pure bending deformation, we expect to uniformly explain the whole process of buckling occurrence, evolution and finally failure, especially for the early evolution characteristics of fiber microbuckling inside the microstructures. The research results are meaningful for the practical applications for SMPC deployable structures in space.
Considering the deformation mechanisms of SMPCs, the local post-microbuckling is required for the unidirectional fiber reinforced composite materials, at the conditions of its large geometrical deflection. The cross section of SMPC is divided into three areas: non-buckling stretching area, non-buckling compressive area, and buckling compressive area. Three variables are considered: critical buckling position, and neutral plane, the fiber buckling half-wavelength. Considering the condition of the small strain and large displacement, the strain energy expression of the SMP/fiber system was derived, which contains two types, e.g., strain energy of SMP and fiber. According to the minimum energy principle, the expression for all key parameters were derived, including the critical buckling curvature, neutral plane position, the buckling half-wavelength, fiber buckling amplitude, and strain.