Feeds

Radiation puts kybosh on cheap satellite plans

No safe space

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The space around the Earth is more dangerous than scientists thought, according to new research. This could mean plans for lightly shielded, very cheap satellites will have to be shelved for the time being.

Researchers at the University of Colorado have discovered that a region around the planet, previously thought to be free of radiation, is actually awash with high energy particles. This so-called "safe-zone" sits in between the radiation-stuffed Van Allen belts. This region is normally shielded by the Earth's plasmasphere, but during the particularly intense solar storms last year, this was eroded somewhat and the "safe-zone" was flooded with ions. Some radiation still remains today, researchers have found.

The Van Allen belts are two torus shaped regions that sit at altitudes of 3000-6000km and 20,000-25,000km above Earth's equator. For a long time it was thought impossible for a human being to survive crossing this hostile zone. (This argument is one of the central tenets of the "Moon Landings Conspiracy" theory, which argues that the whole moon mission was faked. Shame about the lunar laser ranging retroreflector array, huh?)

Check out NASA's page for some amazing graphics of these regions.

Satellites that orbit outside the safe-zone have always carried heavy shielding to protect them from radiation in orbit. However, this shielding makes getting the craft into orbit an expensive proposition. Scientists had hoped that lighter satellites would be able to be launched that would orbit only in the safe zone. This research suggests that this wouldn't be such a good idea.

Last year's storms were unusually intense, but that doesn't mean the zone is safe. Once every 11 years, when solar activity peaks, radiation will be more than strong enough to flood the space between the Van Allen belts, and smaller peaks in the intervening years could also cause problems.

Jerry Goldstein of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, told New Scientist: "It doesn't exactly shatter our hopes but it's not good." ®

Related stories

Galileo launches will go ahead
UK firm plans space tug for satellite rescues
BBC Weather goes 3D

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.