cds.cern.ch The CERN Superconductors team in the Technology department is involved in the European Space Radiation Superconducting Shield (SR2S) project, which aims to demonstrate the feasibility of using superconducting magnetic shielding technology to protect astronauts from cosmic radiation in the space environment. The material that will be used in the superconductor coils on which the project is working is magnesium diboride (MgB2), the same type of conductor developed in the form of wire for CERN for the LHC High Luminosity Cold Powering project.
Back in April 2014, the CERN Superconductors team announced a world-record current in an electrical transmission line using cables made of the MgB2superconductor. This result proved that the technology could be used in the form of wire and could be a viable solution for both electrical transmission for accelerator technology and long-distance power transportation. Now, the MgB2superconductor has found another application: it will soon be tested in a prototype coil that could provide the solution to ensure safe trips for astronauts during deep-space missions. The idea is to create an active magnetic field to shield the spacecraft from high-energy cosmic particles. “In the framework of this project, CERN is testing MgB2 tape in a configuration that has specifically been developed for the SR2S project by Columbus Superconductors,” explains Amalia Ballarino, Superconductors and Superconducting Devices section leader.
“In the framework of the project, we will test, in the coming months, a racetrack coil wound with an MgB2 superconducting tape,” says Bernardo Bordini, coordinator of CERN activity in the framework of the SR2S project. “The prototype coil is designed to quantify the effectiveness of the superconducting magnetic shielding technology.”
During long-duration trips in space and in the absence of the magnetosphere that protects people living on Earth, astronauts are bombarded with high-energy cosmic rays that might cause a significant increase in the probability of various types of cancers. Because of this, exploration missions to Mars or other distant destinations will only become realistically possible if an effective solution for adequately shielding astronauts is found. “If the prototype coil we will be testing produces successful results, we will have contributed important information to the feasibility of the superconducting magnetic shield,” says Ballarino.
There are many more challenges to overcome before a spacecraft shield can be built: various possible magnetic configurations need to be tested and compared and other key enabling technologies need to be developed. But the MgB2 superconductor seems to be very well-placed to take part in this challenging adventure as, among its many advantages, there is also its ability to operate at higher temperatures (up to about 25 K) thus allowing the spacecraft to have a simplified cryogenic system. Watch this “space”!
|The SR2S Project
SR2S is a Collaborative Project under the Space Theme of the EU Seventh Framework Research Programme. The project started in January 2013 and will end in December 2015. The aim of the SR2S project is to provide a pathway for the further development of a protective shield for astronauts, which should be launched in the market within the next two decades.
popularmechanics AUG 5, 2015
Giant superconducting magnets could protect astronauts from cosmic rays.
CERN isn’t content with just having the largest particle accelerator in the world. It has other projects on its horizon, like protecting future space travelers from deadly cosmic radiation.
Cosmic rays are one of the gravest threats space agencies have to contend with for any future Mars exploration. Space is a harsh environment full of radiation that’s damaging to life like us. While it didn’t prevent a short-duration spaceflight like the Apollo missions to the moon, sending humans beyond the Earth-Moon system will require us to do a lot more to protect them.
But CERN thinks it can make a Star Trek-like shield system a reality. To that end, scientists there are testing the use of magnesium diboride superconducting magnets. The magnets are used in the Large Hadron Collider to create ultra-bright particle beams at a low temperature. Used in spacecraft shielding, they would create a sort of magnetosphere around the craft (likely the Orion capsule),simulating one of the mechanisms that prevents radiation exposure on Earth and in the upper atmosphere. The magnets would be coiled within the body of the craft, surrounding it with an artificial magnetic field.
“The MgB2superconductor seems to be very well placed to take part in this challenging adventure as, among its many advantages, there is also its ability to operate at higher temperatures (up to about 25 K) thus allowing the spacecraft to have a simplified cryogenic system.,” CERN communications editor Antonella Del Rosso said in a post on the idea.
We’re hoping they’re right, because radiation isn’t a danger only for traveling through space. Mars doesn’t have a magnetosphere as strong as Earth’s to protect lifeforms on its surface from space radiation, so advanced shielding technologies must be part of any survivable habitat on the surface of the Red Planet.
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