UK researchers replicate space radiation effects in laboratory


Researchers from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, UK, have mimicked the effects of space radiation in a laboratory, opening up possibilities for better and safer future space missions.

They have used new laser-plasma-based accelerators to imitate the radiation, which presents a risk to astronauts and space technology due to the lack of protection from it in space.

The radiation tests were conducted at the Central Laser Facility of STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) situated near Oxford.

The STFC RAL provides scientists from the UK and Europe with an unparalleled range of the latest laser technology.

University of Strathclyde physics professor Bernhard Hidding said: “Space radiation is a danger to satellite electronics, as well as manned space travel. Earth’s magnetic core shields us from dangerous particles but space has no such protection.

“Testing for a solution would ideally be done in space but this is costly; furthermore, space radiation is difficult to replicate in laboratory conditions with conventional radiation sources, which produce radiation with rather unnatural energy distribution.

“By using laser-plasma-accelerators, however, we were able to produce particle flux which more closely resembled conditions in space.”

“Our research shows laser-plasma-accelerators are viable tools for space radiation testing and are a valuable addition to conventional ground-based testing techniques."

It is reported that further application development is planned at the Strathclyde-based Scottish Centre for the Application of Plasma-Based Accelerators (SCAPA), in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory and the Central Laser Facility.

Hidding further added: “Our research shows laser-plasma-accelerators are viable tools for space radiation testing and are a valuable addition to conventional ground-based testing techniques.

“Further progress is expected in laser-plasma accelerator technology and this will allow the range of accurately reproducible space radiation to be further extended, to, for example, the radiation belts of other planets with magnetic fields, such as Jupiter or Saturn.

“These planets have much stronger magnetic fields, generating far higher energy electrons than that of Earth, but exploratory missions in these harsh radiation environments have a high scientific priority, such as investigating the possibility of water on the Jupiter moon Io.”

Funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), the study also involves researchers from Germany and the US.


Image: Creation of space radiation in a laboratory. Photo: courtesy of University of Strathclyde.