Don's Tensegrity String Telescopes
What Is A Tensegrity String
A "tensegrity string telescope"
is a string telescope that uses a tensegrity structure as the basis for
the string telescope.
Tensegrity frees the designer to
be creative. A few basic examples are shown. I encourage
the designer to use the examples and concepts on this webpage, and the String Telescope Concepts webpage
, as a starting point. Create your own tensegrity variation.
What Are The Benefits Of
Tensegrity String Telescopes vs. Non-Tensegrity String telescopes
There are MANY
variations of string telescopes
. However, the most common
string telescope design is the 3 strut telescope.
tension and strut compression forces are ~50% to ~90% lower than a non-tensegrity string telescope.
moments at the upper ring and mirror box are zero.
forces and bending moments allow the tubes, upper ring and mirror box
to be less rigid and lighter weight.
- Smaller string and strut forces lower the natural frequency
of the telescope so vibration should be a lower concern.
What Is A Tensegrity Structure?
How Does A Tensegrity String
Tensegrity stands for Tens
Buckminster Fuller came up with the name "tensegrity" but he did not
create tensegrity. A tensegrity structure (also known as "floating compression"
has the following:
- Strings are in pure tension
- Tubes are in pure compression
- There are no bending moments
- Tensegrity structures are ultra lightweight
- If one string or tube breaks, the structure fails.
Each string and tube depends on every other string and tube.
- Tubes are limited by column buckling.
Features Common With All String
- The strings and middle ring tubes are fixed length and
- The struts are variable length. The strut length
effectively changes by tightening screws at the ends of the struts.
- The location of
the upper ring is controled solely by the lengths of the strings and
middle ring tubes. As
long as the strings are in tension middle ring tubes are NOT bowed, the
tensegrity string telescope maintains collimation, even if the struts
- With both 3 strut and 4 strut telescopes, the middle ring compensates for
tolerances in string lengths and string anchor locations.
That means the upper ring remains flat regardless of string
Note that the upper ring may not be parallel to the mirror box but that
- Few loose parts
- Quick setup
- Maintains collimation between setups
- Compact (disassembled) size for transportation
3 Things To Observe With String Telescopes:
There are 3 things I look at with
Weight At The Upper Ring
- The weight at the
upper ring. This includes the weight of
everything attached to the upper ring plus half the weight of the tubes.
- The string angle.
This is the angle between the string and the strut axis.
- Where the strings
attached. This determines what bending moments are applied
upper ring and mirror box by the strings.
With string telescopes the struts are (typically) vertical and are in
compression. When the tube assembly is horizontal, the full
the upper ring is supported by the lateral force component of the
tension. The red arrows represent the upper ring weight.
String Lateral Force Component
= Upper Ring Weight
a designer is selecting a telescope design for a specific mirror, etc.,
the lateral force component is a CONSTANT regardless of the number of
struts or pairs of strings of a string telescope
String Angle With Respect to
This is a visual way to compare the string tension force
[F(string)] and strut
[F(axial)] to lateral force component
For comparison purposes, the following examples will have the same
length for F(lat.).
|The image on
the left is a "Traditional" 3 Strut String Telescope.
F(axial) / F(lat.) = 8:1
|The image on the right is
a Tensegrity 3 Strut String Telescope.
F(axial) / F(lat.) = 2:1
tension and strut compression forces are approximately 75% lower than
the Non-Tensegrity telescope.
Note: The string
and strut foces can be
further reduced by making the middle ring bigger.
Where Are The Strings Attached?
When strings are attached at the
ends of the tubes the bending moments are zero. When strings are
attached away from the ends of the tiubes, the strings apply bending
moments to the part (upper ring and/or mirror box).
Some Tensegrity String Telescope Possibilities
The tensegrity telescopes
this webpage have a middle ring(s) with floating tubes
. There is no "standard"
tensegrity telescope design. Tensegrity
telescopes can have multiple middle rings with floating tubes.
- One middle ring (with floating tubes) is required between the rigid upper ring and rigid mirror box.
- Two consecutive middle rings (with floating tubes) are acceptable between the rigid upper ring and rigid mirror box.
- The structure becomes unstable when there are three or more consecutive middle rings (with floating tubes).
The more "efficient" designs have
vertical struts and horizontal middle ring tubes. When struts are
vertical, strut compression and string tension are
lower than when struts are on an angle with respect to vertical.
Strut compression can be reduced by using a larger middle ring.
Here are a few examples:
- The first example has 3 struts with the minimum size middle
ring to clear the struts.
- The second example has 4 struts and the minimum size middle
ring to clear the struts. The string angle is larger than the the
first example which means the string and strut forces are lower than
the first example. In addition, string and strut forces are
spread over 4 struts instead of 3, which makes makes string and strut
forces even lower than the first example.
- The third example has a larger middle ring so larger string
angle, thus even smaller string and strut forces than the second
- The fourth example has two middle rings and an even larger
string angle. Having more than one middle ring may be a vialble
option for large F-Number telescopes. Note: I am planning to build a variation of this design during the spring of 2016.
Dos and Don'ts
- The middle ring tubes should not be constrained by strings or the
struts. Otherwise, collimation may not be reliable.
However, it is acceptable for the middle ring to constrain the struts.
- The strings should not be constrained by the middle ring tubes or the
struts. Otherwise, collimation may not be reliable.
- However, it is acceptable for the middle ring to constrain the struts.
should attach directly to the string anchor. However, a chain
link is OK if only one string attaches to each chain link.
OK NOT OK
string centerlines should intersect the centerlines of the tubes where the tubes attach to the upper ring/mirror box.
Otherwise, bending moments will apply bending moments to the upper ring
or mirror box.
- I suggest using soft steel (rebar) wire to mock up string
lengths before building your strings.
- Strings MUST be inflexible. I used BCY 450 Plus bow
string. I used 5 loops with my 3 strut telescope strings and 4
loops with my 4 strut telescope. See the bottom of this website
for string making. I snaked the bow string loop through a
parachord 550 chord after removing the inner strands from the parachord.
- Use the same string angle (with respect to vertical) above
and below the middle ring.
- I suggest using aluminum tent poles. Aluminum tent
poles are available in many sizes. I got my tent poles from Tent Pole Technologies in
- I suggest that carbon fiber tent poles NOT be used.
If carbon fiber tent poles are scored, they can snap when bent.
- For my middle ring string anchors I used 5" stainless steel
safety pins that I modified.
- Think about how you will transport your telescope when
deciding between 3 strut and 4 strut designs. The 4 strut design
can have a smaller middle ring, in addition to having lower string
tension and strut compression.
- I suggest using larger diameter tubes than needed. A
small increase in weight will give a LARGE increase in rigidity.
I prefer to overdesign telescopes.
My Tensegrity Telescopes
3 Strut Telescope
I built this
telescope without knowing what "tensegrity" was. My telescopes
had many itterations. Do NOT use the key rings shown at the ends
of the middle ring tubes. In this itteration of the design
I used those rings to add length to the upper strings for the
sake of collimation.
Note: Typically with
string telescopes the strings apply lateral forces at the upper ring
and mirror box. However, this design is peculiar in that all
strings and tubes are in the same plane. This design applies zero lateral forces at the upper ring and mirror box. This is something to keep in mind when designing tensegrity structures.
This is my "proof of concept"
full scale structure for the 3 strut telescope. Struts were
0.490" x 0.026" tent poles, and middle ring tubes were 0.340" x 0.025"
tent poles. I hung 26 pounds of tools from the upper ring.
The struts and middle ring tubes all bent but did not collapse with the
weight. This means collimation is compromised. The actual final weight at the upper ring was 3.7 pounds
so this structure is way overdesigned.
finished 3 strut telescope supports a 45.8 pound case of bottled
water. The strings are starting to go limp which means
collimation is compromised. Another observation is that ratio of
axial to lateral force is 2:1 (as described above). The ratio of
45.8 pounds to 26 pounds is approximately 2:1.
This telescope was used as a tent
pole at OSP 2015.
I decided AGAINST using the 3
strut design because:
- The middle ring was an awkward shape and did not pack well
to travel, and
- 3 struts are not a good match with a rectangular mirror box.
4 Strut Telescope, My "Final"
Having VERY LOW string tension
and strut compression, and zero bending moments frees the designer to
be creative with tensegrity. My 4 strut telescope (shown below)
deviates from "optimum" design practice.
Things To Notice:
- The upper ring is rotated 45 degrees with respect to the
mirror box for better eyepiece position.
- The string pattern above the middle ring is different than
the string pattern below the middle ring.
- Struts on an angle means higher string tension and strut
compression than with vertical struts.
- Different string angles for strings with respect to the
strut axis means different strings have different string tensions.
- The middle ring is kept smaller for better packaging during
This photo shows the telescope
disassembled with the SiTech
Servo 1 controller installed. The altitude bearings are attached
with thumbscrews and are removed for transportation.
- Tensegrity string telescopes have significantly lower
strut forces than non-tensegrity string telescopes. I'd
recommend tensegrity string telescopes over non-tensegrity string
- I consider the tensegrity 4 strut design to be superior to
strut design. Not only are string and strut forces lower than the
strut design, but the envelope of the telescope is smaller.
Some of my astronomy projects: