- Parabolic Arc
- June 2, 2023
NASA Funds Research into Magnetic Field to Protect Astronauts in Deep Space
by Douglas Messier
NASA is funding research into a system that would create a magnetic field around spacecraft to protect astronauts from damaging cosmic rays and solar ration.
The space agency awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I grant to Elena D’Onghia of the University of Wisconsin, Madison for a research project titled, Cosmic Radiation Extended Warding using the Halbach Torus. The award is worth $175,000.
“The health risks to astronauts associated with chronic exposure to radiation in space include carcinogenesis, cardiovascular damage, and degradation of the central nervous system. Since the Earth’s magnetic field is responsible for protecting us on Earth’s surface, a logical solution to the problem would be to have a spacecraft bring along its equivalent magnetic field,” the project abstract said.
“Here we propose CREW HaT, a new concept for a Halbach Torus (HaT), which consists of light, deployable, mechanically supported magnetic coils activated by a new generation of high-temperature superconducting tapes which have recently become available. This configuration produces an enhanced external magnetic field that diverts cosmic radiation particles, complemented by a suppressed magnetic field in the astronaut’s habitat,” the document added.
The project abstract follows.
CREW HaT: Cosmic Radiation Extended Warding using the Halbach Torus
University of Wisconsin, Madison
NIAC Phase I
Length: 9 months
The 21st century will be when human space exploration gets off the ground. NASA’s priority is to send humans back to the Moon in 2024 with the Artemis mission and travel to Mars in the next decade. In parallel, SpaceX and Blue Origin companies are developing the technology to make human access to space routine.
However, achieving this goal is only possible if we can protect the humans we send to space from the damaging effects of cosmic rays and energetic solar radiation. The health risks to astronauts associated with chronic exposure to radiation in space include carcinogenesis, cardiovascular damage, and degradation of the central nervous system. Since the Earth’s magnetic field is responsible for protecting us on Earth’s surface, a logical solution to the problem would be to have a spacecraft bring along its equivalent magnetic field.
Here we propose CREW HaT, a new concept for a Halbach Torus (HaT), which consists of light, deployable, mechanically supported magnetic coils activated by a new generation of high-temperature superconducting tapes which have recently become available. This configuration produces an enhanced external magnetic field that diverts cosmic radiation particles, complemented by a suppressed magnetic field in the astronaut’s habitat.
The HaT geometry has never been explored before in this context or studied in combination with modern superconductive tapes. It diverts over 50% of the biology-damaging cosmic rays (protons below 1 GeV) and higher energy high-Z ions. This is sufficient to reduce the radiation dose absorbed by astronauts to a level that is <5% of the lifetime excess risk of cancer mortality levels established by NASA.
8 responses to “NASA Funds Research into Magnetic Field to Protect Astronauts in Deep Space”
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“Guaranteed to work”to provide radiation shielding, but utterly destroys the capability of the spacecraft, making it a non-starter.
Well, that is the thing….depending on how you define it, it would not be a “spacecraft”, it would be a “Spaceship.”
I would classify a vehicle with the required massive cosmic ray water shield AND a tether-generated artificial gravity system, providing a near sea level radiation and one gravity environment, AND with a nuclear propulsion system to propel it- since chemicals are essentially useless for those tens of thousands of tons- as a Space-ship.
Likewise, I would classify something with that shielding and artificial gravity but no nuclear propulsion as a Space-station. What we call a space station now would more properly be a “platform.”
A Lunar Cycler is a problem to classify because it might just use a nuclear tug to get it going and rely on periodic rendezvous or some kind of solar electric system to keep “Cycling.”
But, vehicles without the water shield or tether system and chemically propelled, or even NTR propelled, would be classified as Space-craft.
If that is a non-starter than Human Space Flight is a non-starter because that is what we have to have to send people Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit.
That’s like saying that SLS is essential to returning humans to the moon…. your username checks out!
No…it is not like that all.
But SpaceX Fanboy certainly “checks out” for you.
I originally posted this at the top of the page but tried to attach a link to Dr. Parkers article “Shielding Space Travelers” and it was removed as spam- so here it is again.
I am actually not happy to see this for several reasons. It is extremely difficult to “divert” heavy nuclei GCR and this is, as they state, only a half measure.
And “the Halbach Torus” is going to be endlessly hyped as the solution to radiation when it has a low probability of even halfway providing the required protection.
The “Guaranteed To Work” solution, described by Eugene Parker (the “Parker Minimum”) is 5 meters of water.
Solar radiation is less energetic than cosmic radiation. The implication here is that if this magnetic apparatus can deflect half of the latter, it should deflect all of the former. The question then arises as to whether the reduction in cosmic ray impingement is uniform anent all vectors of impingement or is, for example, complete anent certain incoming vectors and much lower or zero anent other incoming vectors. If the latter is the case, then rad shield mass could be concentrated only where needed.
It would also be good to know to what degree the level of protection corresponds to the strength of the magnetic field. Above a certain magnetic field strength, superconductors lose their superconductivity. So-called “high-temperature” superconductors are generally much less resistant to high gauss than are classic ultra-low-temperature superconductors such as those used in MRI machines. If field strength determines magnitude of radiation deflection, then this technology should improve as the high-temperature superconductors upon which it is based also improve.
This kind of research is looong overdue. And considering the mention of “superconducting tapes”, I guess that is the same tech that “Commonwealth Fusion Systems” is using?
It would seem that that might well be. I haven’t kept up with high-temperature superconductivity research in quite awhile, but a bit of poking around seems to indicate that both the critical field strength and the critical current density of newer high-temperature superconductors actually exceed those of the classical metal alloy ultra-low temperature superconductors. I don’t know if that will allow creation of “Mr. Fusion” anytime soon, but it certainly seems to be a significant step forward.