Electromagnets to deflect space radiation from astronauts

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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As simple and as obvious as it sounds.

We just can’t get enough mass weight up there to protect human beings from solar flares, Van Allen belt radiation, and other forms of lethal radiation in space. Charged particles continue to sleet through everything — and everyone —we send up there, while Earth’s atmosphere, and Earth’s magnetic field, protect us from harm down here.

The Van Allen belts exist, incidentally, because of Earth’s magnetic field. Radiation is trapped into circuits there because Earth’s magnetic field has deflected it to there. Eventually the radiation follows the magnetic line of force down into the atmosphere near the poles, often to become an aurora borealis. Pretty there, but cumulatively lethal to exposed humans up there.

Yes, if we could get enough weight mass up there, and get it all in one place, the mass shielding could afford protection. Even so, if it all had to be in one place, what would be the point of space development? We want to be out there all around, pursuing many different explorations and endeavors. So it seems unaccountable that those of our brilliant space scientists and engineers who are concerned with protection from space radiation have only been thinking in terms of mass shielding — probably a good demonstration of the power of mind-set to blind even the brightest among us from the obvious.

Coils of wire carry electricity (in this case DC, Direct Current, a la battery, instead of AC, the alternating current you get by plugging into a socket in your livingroom wall). They can be very light in weight. Mount or suspend such coils at appropriate distance from the capsule, shuttle, station or ship, mainly upstream in the ongoing or anticipated flow of radiation. Charge up and you have a magnetic field, deflecting the flow of charged particles away from vulnerable human beings and payload.

A few engineering details remain, such as how to maintain the coils properly positioned at the appropriate distance and position relative to what they are shielding, but, basically, it’s that simple. Basically, it’s that obvious.

Anyone reading this know someone in the space industry?


What I suggest here next is no invention of mine. Indeed, it has been featured for a half century in thousands of SF stories and films. But it seems a bit odd that we’ve been developing our enormous technology and sets of equipment for coping with effects of long-term weightlessness in space — and accepting considerable damage to human bodies nonetheless there — when simple centrifugal force could supply the g-force equivalent necessary to keep human beings healthy.

At its simplest: have capsule or station in two pods, not one, bound together for launches, maneuvers or re-entries, but once into orbit or trajectory, paid out on tethers and set to rotating around their common center at a speed and distance whose centrifugal force equals one Earth gravity. Cancel the spin and reel the two pods back together for maneuvers (though our computers by now are likely up to the task of moving the two pods in tandem if they were still separate). With three or more pods you add some stability, so laser-sighted computer-directed steering and positioning jets won’t have to work as hard at maintaining relative positions in the spin. Much more stable still is the rotating wheel space station familiar to SF buffs.

Aside from oesteopathic costs to human health which such rotating systems would avoid, to this untutored eye it seems that the engineering and science and payload cost would be a lot easier and simpler if we decided to put the right spin on this topic.

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