College Students Hatch Nuclear-Powered Magnetic Plan to Protect Marsonauts from Cosmic Rays

The trip to Mars will expose astronauts to fatal levels of cosmic radiation. However a group of university student has a plan to guard spacecraft from radiation.

Credit: NASA/Viking 1

DENVER — A group of undergrad students is establishing a magnetic guard to safeguard interplanetary astronauts from the extreme cosmic radiation in between Earth and Mars.

The students, from Drake University in Iowa, provided their task in the poster session Saturday (April 13) at the April conference of the American Physical Society. Their MISSFIT (Magneto-Ionization Spacecraft Guard for Interplanetary Travel) style utilizes an effective magnetic guard that, like Earth’s magnetosphere, secures the world from high-energy particles. The defense system likewise includes “passive” protecting to imitate the ionosphere — Earth’s 2nd layer of defense. [When Space Attacks: The 6 Craziest Meteor Impacts]

With aid from a little NASA grant through the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, experiments are currently underway on the passive protecting, which might protect astronauts from high-energy gamma-rays that a magnetic guard can’t stop. The hope, stated Lorien MacEnulty, a junior at Drake and a member of the group, is to fix a crucial security issue that’s postponed an ultimate NASA objective to Mars: long-lasting direct exposure to interplanetary radiation.

Today, the students are try out a variety of radiation-blocking materials that may be light adequate to install on a spacecraft.

“We expose [the fabrics] to radiation,” MacEnulty informed Live Science. “Then we count how many particles make it through the layers of fabric.”

A long procedure of information collection, and analytical analysis, will assist figure out which materials may make many sense to coat the spacecraft with, stated Doug Drake, a junior at Drake University who deals with experiments and coding simulations of particle trajectories.

However the materials aren’t the entire story.

The students presume that NASA’s ultimate Mars-bound spacecraft will be basically a long cylinder, turning to produce synthetic gravity, MacEnulty stated

“At the ends of that capsule we’d have two superconducting magnets, powered by nuclear reactors,” she stated.

Those magnets would not divert gamma-rays. However they would trigger charged alpha particles — another part of cosmic rays that might strike the spacecraft and discharge X-rays — to approach completions of the spacecraft, which would be topped by 2 bubbles of product filled with a mix of ionized gas that imitates Earth’s ionosphere.

As the alpha particles zoom through this ionized gas, they would lose energy in a procedure comparable to the one that produces auroras in the ionosphere near Earth’s own North and South Poles.


A schematic of the MISSFIT team's nuclear-powered magnetic shield design.

A schematic of the MISSFIT group’s nuclear-powered magnetic guard style.

Credit: D. Atri-Schuller, S. Cusick, K. Finger, T. Johnson, A. Lyon, L. MacEnulty, D. Madison, M. McCord, G. Menning, A. Petridis (Coach), M. Schnurr, W. Thomas

The students do not yet understand how effective these magnets would have to be. However the group believes they might be powered with atomic power plants that would fit on a spacecraft.

Within the next a couple of years, MacEnulty stated, the group hopes to get its very first paper released, and down the roadway to drive more financing towards their work.

“This is going to be a multiyear project,” she stated. “We’re just undergrads, and we’re doing this by ourselves [with the oversight of Drake professor and physicist Athanasios Petridis].”

Initially released on Live Science.

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