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04 November 2008

Raise shields!

Coming to you today from Universe Today, who publishes the excellent Carnival of Space, an interesting story with an almost sci-fi twist.

Ion Shield for Interplanetary Spaceships Now a Reality

British scientists have overcome what is probably the biggest danger facing astronauts on the job: solar and cosmic radiation. There have been many different shielding solutions developed. One is building it into the spacecraft, at a huge mass penalty. Another is to build less into the structure of the craft and to have a "storm cellar" in the spacecraft where water is stored. Water is one the best passive radiation shielding materials in existence. With the work of researchers from Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the universities of York and Strathclyde, a magnetic shield has been developed that offers almost total protection against charged particles. As Professor Bob Bingham of the University of Strathclyde described it, "solar storms or winds are one of the greatest dangers of deep space travel. If you got hit by one not only would it take out the electronics of a ship but the astronauts would soon take on the appearance of an overcooked pizza."

"It would be a bit like being near the Hiroshima blast. Your skin would blister, hair and teeth fall out and before long your internal organs would fail. It is not a very nice way to go."

Professor's Bingham's team is patenting their device and could have a full size prototype operational in five (5) years. Their mini-magnetosphere generator is about the size of a playground roundabout
and uses about as much power as an electric kettle. If viable, it will see its biggest use in protecting astronauts from solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME's). Earth's magnetosphere protects us from both here on the ground.

A CME is so powerful that when one hits the Earth, it will disrupt the Earth's magnetosphere, compressing it on the day side and extending the night-side tail.

When the magnetosphere reconnects on the nightside, it creates trillions of watts of power which is directed back toward the Earth's upper atmosphere. This process can cause particularly strong aurora also known as the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis (in the Northern Hemisphere), and the Southern Lights, or aurora australis (in the Southern Hemisphere). CME events, along with solar flares, can disrupt radio transmissions, cause power outages (blackouts), and cause damage to satellites and electrical transmission lines.

The designed system uses two (2) outrider satellites that can be switched on and off as needed. The only thing left is to figure out how to stop the radiation that doesn't have an inherent electric charge.


Chris said...

A very interesting concept indeed. I have always wondered what measures were taken to protect the astronauts in transit. Apparently, not that much.

qraal said...

Ever since CMEs and solar flares became a known hazard space-planners have designed radiation shelters to squeeze into for the crew. Mass-shielding works, but it's heavy. The mag-shield is a better option if it doesn't use too much juice and is lower mass.

Alexander DeClama said...

Well according to the article, less than a electric tea kettle. So not that much and considering the design call for two outrider satellites for the system, each one fo them could use solar cells to power themselves.

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