Superconducting Magnetic Bubble To Protect Astronauts From Radiation

Using fields of force to accomplish goals in space is a favorite device of science fiction authors. In Larry Niven's award-winning 1970 novel Ringworld, protection against the harsh environmental hazards of space is provided by a hybrid system consisting of a General Products hull and the Slaver stasis field. The General Products hull is an example of a "passive" or material shielding; the hull is transparent to visible light and impervious to electromagnetic energy and matter in any form. The Slaver stasis field creates an area in which time does not pass; since time stands still, no damage can be done to the material occupying the space protected by the field.

Former astronaut Jeffery Hoffman is proposing a different sort of hybrid system to protect future astronauts; on long voyages through the solar system they will be exposed to lethal doses of radiation from cosmic rays. He has recieved funding from NASA through NIAC (NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts) to research the idea of a superconducting magnetic radiation shielding system to supplement (or replace) traditional passive shielding.


(From Magnetic Bubble)

The idea of using a magnetic field to shield a craft from radiation is not new; as Dr. Hoffman points out "the Earth has been doing it for billions of years!" Using magnetic shielding was proposed in the late 1960's, but not pursued after plans for further space exporation were scrapped.

Two types of radiation need to be addressed, according to William S. Higgins, an engineering physicist who works on radiation safety at Fermilab, the particle accelerator near Chicago, IL:

  • Solar flare protons (which would come in bursts following a solar flare)
  • Galactic cosmic rays (a continuous background radiation)
The easiest way to protect against this radiation is to absorb it. However, such shielding can be massive, and cosmic rays can interact with the shielding and create secondary charged particles, worsening the situation. The primary benefit of using magnetic shielding is to save on the mass required for traditional absorption technologies. The mass of the spacecraft, which must be lifted off from the Earth and placed in orbit, directly drives the cost of space systems. Reducing the amount of mass would make space exploration more affordable and therefore more sustainable over the long term.

Hoffman believes that the best solution may be a hybrid system using both a magnetic field and some passive absorbtion shielding. “That’s the way the Earth does it,” Hoffman explained, “and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to do that in space.”

A related experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), is scheduled to be attached to the outside of the International Space Station and search for different types of cosmic rays. This experiment will be a practical test of maintaining the magnetic field strength and the near-absolute zero temperatures of this kind of system in space.

Phase I research studies the shielding efficiency of the baseline design, and would begin conceptual systems design. Phase II would provide a detailed comparison of magnetic shielding with traditional passive absorption technologies, and detail how to integrate the magnetic shield into a spacecraft.

If you are interested in another NASA proposal that was presaged in science fiction, see NASA's New Radiation Shielding First Proposed By John W. Campbell In 1936. Read more at Magnetic Bubble Could Protect Astronauts and Use of Superconducting Magnet Technology for Astronaut Radiation Protection (pdf).

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/14/2004)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 2 )

Related News Stories - (" Space Tech ")

Caihong Solar-Powered Drone 'Atmospheric Satellite'
'... placed in the wings of a plane to generate power from the light falling on that surface.' - John W. Campbell, 1930.

NASA Wants Low Earth Orbit Wifi
'This was the center of Interplanetary Communications.' - George O. Smith, 1942.

The Space Suit As Personal Spaceship
'Darn clever, these suits...' - Jack Williamson, 1933.

Pent-Up NASA Scientists Simulate Life On Mars
'That gives it complete isolation.' - David H. Keller, 1932.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

PassivDom 3D Printed House - What If You Could Live Anywhere?
'The houses are prefabricated units...'

Breakthrough In Manufacture Of Red Blood Cells
This blood's for you!

Caihong Solar-Powered Drone 'Atmospheric Satellite'
'... placed in the wings of a plane to generate power from the light falling on that surface.'

NASA Wants Low Earth Orbit Wifi
'This was the center of Interplanetary Communications.'

Is Genetic Testing At Businesses A Bad Idea?
It's not a topic that fares well in science fiction movies-

Wearable Smart Jacket
He pressed the button in his sleeve communicator and snapped: 'Action stations!'

Store One Bit On One Atom
'...each individual molecule has a meaning.'

Fluorescent Bacteria Fashion
'The racks of gowns itched and quivered, their colors running into blurred pools.'

Keith Laumer's Bolo Autonomous Tanks Right On Schedule
'I cannot lie idle under attack.'

When Computers Develop Their Own Language, Will They Talk To Us?
'The curious absent look of a robot talking on the TBR circuits - the Talk Between Robots radio...'

LipNet Reads Lips - Until Disconnected, That Is
'We'd have to cut his higher brain functions... I'm not sure what [HAL} would think about that.'

Eterni.me - To Skype With The Dead
'Nothing... left of Jeserac but a galaxy of electrons frozen in the heart of a crystal.'

Wearable MRI Is Former Occulus/Facebook Exec's New Project
'Your cephalochromoscope... that you always turn on and play when you get home...'

Ford Stratasys Infinte Build 3D Printer
'He proudly indicated his Buick... Almost as good as the original it was printed from...'

The Space Suit As Personal Spaceship
'Darn clever, these suits...'

Dune Fans! Your God Emperor Is Ready
'If one held a sandtrout in the hand, smoothing it over your skin, it formed a living glove.'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.