The journey to the asteroids, Mars or beyond is plagued with technological problems. Among the most challenging is finding a way to protect humans from the high energy particles that would otherwise raise radiation levels to unacceptable levels.
On Earth, humans are protected by the atmosphere, the mass of the Earth itself and the Earth’s magnetic field. In low earth orbit, astronauts loose the protection of the atmosphere and radiation levels are consequently higher by two orders of magnitude.
In deep space, astronauts loose the protecting effect of the Earth’s mass and its magnetic field, raising levels a further five times and beyond the acceptable limits that humans can withstand over the 18 months or so it would take to get to Mars or the asteroids.
An obvious way to protect astronauts is with an artificial magnetic field that would steer charged particles away. But previous studies have concluded that ordinary magnets would be too big and heavy to be practical on a space mission.
However, superconducting magnets are more powerful, more efficient and less massive. They are much better candidates for protecting humans. The only problem is that nobody has built and tested a superconducting magnet in space.
That’s where the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer comes in. This machine was designed and built with a superconducting magnet that can operate in space. Now Battiston and co have used the knowledge and experience from building this machine to study how it could be put to use on a deep space mission for humans. For example, they use the software developed to simulate the behaviour of the superconducting magnets on the spectrometer to study how a human-rated system might work.