Testing the first electrostatic radiation shield in deep space

Can we have Star Trek-style radiation shields on future space missions?

Earth-inspired solution to a space problem

An artist’s depiction of the Earth’s magnetic field protecting itself from solar charged particles. White lines — solar radiation, purple line — bow shock, blue lines — Earth’s magnetic field. Image not to scale. Source: Wikipedia
Styrofoam peanuts clinging to a cat’s fur due to static electricity. Source: Wikipedia

The setup

A miniature Van de Graaff generator storing positive charge on the sphere-shaped conductor at the top. Electric motor (bottom right) and gears run the rubber belt.
The two sensors on the top deck to monitor incoming charged particles.

How it works

A charged particle is deflected by an electrostatic field. Source: Quora
A Bion satellite, part of the Soviet space program focused primarily on biological experiments. Source: Wikipedia

Advantages of an active radiation shield

  1. Active shielding is cheaper than material-based shielding for the same amount of efficiency due to reduced material cost.
  2. The ability of a material-based shield to protect from radiation deteriorates with time. For long space missions, a self-sustainable active shield is thus more effective and reliable.
  3. An active shield reduces launch cost as the significant mass of a passive shield is reduced.

Applications

Concept of an electrostatic shield for a lunar base using charged spheres. Source: SlideShare

The next steps

Conclusion

Illustration of an electrostatic field surrounding the Star Trek spaceship U.S.S Enterprise. Source: HowStuffWorks

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Jatan Mehta

Space and Moon exploration writer ~ Contributing Editor, The Planetary Society ~ Thinker | Website: https://jatan.space