Radiation Works

  • Earth magnetosphere


Mission:  To improve methods of active shielding from deep space radiation as part of the larger RadWorks initiative to create solutions to the radiation-related challenges for human space exploration.

Challenge: To develop and optimize different instruments for high-voltage shielding, including traditional high-voltage power supplies (HVPS), novel high-voltage charge accumulators (HVCA), and intricate electric-field shielding arrays.

Solution: This project is ongoing. In order to meet the challenge specified by NASA, SPRL is developing new methods of space shielding using the lab’s expertise in high-voltage electronics and a “spiral growth” organic design process to leverage natural innovation and push the boundaries of what’s previously been developed. 

Value:  Development of new, more efficient, and higher-voltage active shielding methods that have the potential to keep astronauts safe on longer space flights, such as future voyages to Mars.

Lab: SPRL, in partnership with the NASA Johnson Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Lab, Kansas State University, the University of Utah, and the Brookhaven National Laboratory. 

Key RADWORKS Technology:

  • High-voltage power supply HVPS (cockroft-walten/ cascade generators)
  • High-voltage charge accumulator (HVCA) (investigating both belt (vandergraph) and chain (peletron) driven)

Scientific Objective

Over the past few decades, numerous crafts and drones have been sent to the red planet and the private and public space sectors are booming– the dream of a colony on Mars seems within reach. One obstacle still in the way, however, are the many dangers of such long distance space flight for human astronauts. While astronauts have been going to space for over half a century, the vast majority of these missions have been limited to traveling in low Earth orbit where the Earth’s magnetic field serves both to deflect and to trap portions of the incoming space radiation. Once astronauts venture into deep space, radiation becomes a much bigger problem. The space environment is full of a plethora of different particles, including alpha and beta particles from solar radiation and high-energy hydrogen, helium and heavier nuclei from galactic cosmic radiation. Making human voyages to the red planet possible would require technological advances in current shielding technology.

RadWorks at SPRL is a one-of-a-kind exploration project into several different facets of shielding technology. With the goal of improving active shielding, the lab is working on developing and improving each part of the shield independently– optimizing shielding arrays while improving and creating new methods of high-voltage power supply. 

The lab is improving upon traditional space-rated HVPSs (cascade generators), exploring the adaptation of vandegraph and pelatron driven HVCPs for shielding — something never before done in the vacuum of space, and working on the detailed design and fabrication of shield arrays. Working with other labs around the country for testing and super computer modeling, this project aims to break boundaries and create something truly novel.

SPRL Contributions

  • Ken Arnett (SPRL lead) and Steve Battel (SPRL consultant)
  • Eric Viges — Detailed Array design and fabrication