Feeds

Boffins to test Star Trek space shield

Set deflectors to maximum

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Star Trek's fantasy technology is proving to be an important inspiration for real-world scientists, as researchers in the UK start work on a magnetic deflector shield that could potentially protect astronauts from space radiation.

Space, even the bits in between the planets in our little solar system, is awash with dangerous radiation. Some of these highly charged particles can be traced back to solar storms, the normal solar wind, and distant supernovae. Others come from as yet unidentified sources, further out in space.

All this radiation poses a threat to astronauts of long missions outside of Earth's protective magnetic field, such as a trip to Mars, or Moon colonists.

A team at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has been developing technology they hope will actually go on a test flight. The research has been presented at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Preston.

The team plans to trap a cloud of plasma inside a magnetic field they will generate themselves, by running current through loops of wires. In principle, the magnetic field should deflect charged particles. In the next few months, the group plans to see how well the field will hold onto the plasma cloud by running a test in a 2m-long vacuum chamber. A second test in a larger chamber is slated for the end of 2007.

Robert Bingham of Rutherford Appleton Lab told New Scientist that he hoped to run a test on an actual space flight within 10 to 15 years.

However, Frank Cucinotta, NASA's chief radiation health officer, says the whole idea has a major flaw: if anything goes wrong with a field-shield, the whole shield and all its protective benefit could be lost. With physical shielding there are no moving parts and less risk of a catastrophic failure.

But despite NASA's doubts, the team might well be onto something. The main principles of their experiment have already been successfully demonstrated.

In 1984, on the Active Magnetospheric Particle Tracer Explorer (AMPTE), a plasma cloud was shown to protect a satellite from the onslaught of radiation in the solar wind. But on this mission, which aimed to study plasma dynamics, there was no attempt made to contain the plasma cloud, and it was gradually eroded and drifted away in space.

In July last year, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle thought they might see if they could recreate the protections of Earth's magnetic field by creating a bubble of plasma to surround a spacecraft. They managed to create a protected zone a few centimetres across. The question the UK boffins want to answer is: will it scale up? ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rockin' boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.