Radiation poisoning and the lack of radiation shielding has been one of the biggest concerns facing deep space astronauts for decades. Proper measures that helped protect our modern-day explorers in deep space were amiss, that is until an EU-funded project, the SR2S (Space Radiation Superconducting Shield) project, actually came up with a tangible solution.
Researchers now possess the expertise, the knowledge as well as the tools they need to create effective radiation shielding materials required to protect astronauts from deep space galactic cosmic rays, thereby diminishing their exposure to the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
To truly determine the possibility of coming up with a safe and secure measure for deep space radiation shielding, this project tried to overcome one of the biggest challenges, the weight of the magnet, by focusing its energies on superconductors as these materials do not offer electrical resistance at incredibly low temperatures, something that is all too common in deep space. Since superconductor materials only work in extremely cold environments which are not higher than 0, deep space offers the perfect use for this kind of technology as well.
Over the course of the project, researchers came up with a number of radiation shielding materials that could solve the challenge at hand through proposed structures. One of the most promising structures has been called the pumpkin structure, an active shield that is incredibly lightweight and works by avoiding the generation of secondary particles to offer effective shielding by reducing the materials that are crossed by incident particles.
Thanks to this new structure, the magnetic shield turned out to be 3000 times stronger than earth’s own shield and this should be enough to offer a 10 meter field which deflects cosmic rays around the spacecraft, thereby offering the desired level of protection to deep space astronauts. MgB2 (magnesium diboride) has also been defined as the material of choice, and this material is already being used by companies in all kinds of lead free shielding applications that range from magnetic systems for transportation to x-ray shielding and medical applications.
While it may take many more years for the technology to be ready for use in deep space missions, further tests are being planned out to offer short and mid-term solutions as well. Until a workable plan comes up, we’re no closer to those coveted deep space missions that augment a new era in exploration, but the project has certainly helped us understand that deep space missions are no longer a distant dream, but an up and coming reality.