Scientists at the UK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) plan is to create an environment around the spacecraft that mimics the Earth’s magnetic field and recreates the protection we enjoy on the ground — they call it a mini magnetosphere.
When the neutral plasma encounters the magnetic field boundary the electrons are more easily deflected than the ions and thus charge separation occurs, resulting in the build-up of a large electric field which further strengthens the barrier.
RAL’s Ruth Bamford thought it should be possible, using a combination of the AMPTE-style plasma bubble and the JET-style magnetic field bubble to form an effective Mini-Magnetosphere.
“On Earth, mostly we’re protected by the atmosphere but ultimately what the Earth’s magnetic field is doing is forming a first line of protection for life,” explained Bamford.
“The concept behind what we’re suggesting is due to the evolution in our understanding of plasmas. What we discovered is that if you put a magnetic field around an object in a flowing plasma, the electrons, which are very light, will follow the new magnetic field that you’ve put there but the ions, the very fast ions, will overshoot — they won’t follow the magnetic field lines.
“You end up with a constant electric field that can be enough that it actually refracts or deflects enough of the radiation from inside the magnetic cavity that you’ve formed to protect the astronauts … enough like the Earth that they can survive.”
The RAL deflector shield she has helped to develop has been tested on a model inside a fusion reactor which produces a plasma like that of the solar wind. Bamford said they were delighted with the results.
The RAL team now hope the project can be scaled up and fly on a real craft. “First we need a technology demonstrator in space in, say, five years,” said Bamford. “That’s quite realistic for a dedicated, small, unmanned spacecraft.
A model with the mini-magnetosphere shield is tested in a plasma stream.
Other shielding ideas are also being explored. The Inspiration Mars Foundation that is committed to sending a crew to Mars has proposed lining the spacecraft’s walls with water, food and even human waste to help protect the astronauts.
Winglee had a paper on creating minimag radiation shielding and he thought a 100 kw system could provide protection against gigavolt radiation. The minimag shield would alter the path of the spacecraft so he believed pulsemode operation was needed.
Urban Astronomer – Although we’ve known for a long time that our Solar System’s passage through the interstellar medium must push on the heliosphere, giving it a trailing tail, we’ve never been able to observe it directly. NASA’s IBEX probe recently compiled 3 years worth of data into a map of this ‘heliotail’ to both confirm that it exists, and reveal it’s shape
Illustration of the new Mars rover, with the same design as Curiosity but different instruments and scheduled to launch in 2020. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The rover would use its instruments for visual, mineralogical and chemical analysis down to microscopic scale to understand the environment around its landing site and identify biosignatures, or features in the rocks and soil that could have been formed biologically.
Nextbigfuture – A Proton-M rocket carrying three satellites for the GLONASS navigation constellation (Russia’s GPS system) launched on July 2, 2013. The rocket went sideways and then crashed. Investigators sifting through the wreckage of the doomed rocket found that the critical angular velocity sensors, DUS, were installed upside down. Each of those sensors had an arrow that was suppose to point toward the top of the vehicle, however multiple sensors on the failed rocket were pointing downward instead. As a result, the flight control system was receiving wrong information about the position of the rocket and tried to “correct” it, causing the vehicle to swing wildly and, ultimately, crash.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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