Superconducting magnetic space radiation shielding

The European Union SR2S project not only investigates the principles and the scientific problems (of magnetic shielding), but it also faces the complex issues in engineering.

Superconducting magnets, commonly found in MRI scanners, produce stronger, more efficient magnetic fields using smaller and lighter magnets than magnets made using conventional materials such as copper or aluminium.

On earth, superconducting materials must be cooled to very low temperatures using liquid helium to utilize their superconducting properties, however the project has already found a solution that will work in space.

‘We have decided to use a new superconducting material, discovered in 2001: magnesium diboride or MgB2,’ explained Dr Musenich. MgB2 can superconduct at 10 kelvin, or -263 degrees Celsius, which removes the need for liquid-helium cooling as this temperature is comparable with that of deep space.

Simulations of the magnetic system suggest that a 10-meter-diameter magnetic field could be produced by a system weighing less than half that of a comparable passive shield.

The SR2S superconducting shield will provide an intense magnetic field, 3,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field and will be confined around the space craft.

An active deflector shield system could never replace passive shielding or biological advances, but it can offer options, particularly for EVAs, extending the longevity of hardware and preventing secondary activation of the ship’s hull and systems. It seems the only credible theory for deflection of GeV particles.

CERN will be helping to test the superconducting radiation shield design

NASA has a 158 page report on superconducting radiation shielding. Magnetic fields with 10 tesla and 10 meters thickness could deflect about 93% of the radiation. The EU design has overall protection against 50-70% of the radiation.

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