Buckling experiments with spherical shell segments subjected to three different axisymmetric loading conditions are described. Initial shape imperfections were measured so that the experimental results could be compared with theoretical predictions for imperfect shells. Relevant theoretical solutions including classical buckling and initial postbuckling are therefore reviewed. Due to the inherent irregular nature of the imperfections, a comparison is not straightforward. It was necessary to define the amplitude of an"equivalent" regular imperfection pattern. Because there is no rigorous justification for this approach, the experiments can neither verify nor invalidate the initial postbuckling theory, but there is no doubt that very important characteristics of the shells were predicted qualitatively correctly. According to classical linearized theory, the buckling stress should be approximately Independent of loading condition, but experiments as well as initial postbuckling analyses revealed that the critical principal stress for imperfect shellsmay well vary by a factor of 2 to 3 depending on the ratio between the principal stresses. Experimental results for a spherical shell subjected to an inward point-load were found to be in very good agreement with theoretical large-deflection analysis. Bifurcation from the axisymmetric condition associated with small loads was observed. As predicted by initial postbuckling theory, the bifurcations were found to be stable.

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