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Scientists Work To Produce 'Star Trek' Deflector Shields 193

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-don't-give-out-the-prefix-codes dept.
cold fjord writes "This might be useful. From CNN: 'Recent evidence from NASA's Curiosity rover mission to the Red Planet has revealed that astronauts on the round-trip would be exposed to high levels of radiation from cosmic rays and high-energy particles from the sun ... this would clearly be bad for your health — and it is proving difficult to find a solution. ... [S]hielding to completely block the radiation danger would have to be "meters thick" and too heavy to be used aboard a spacecraft. In contrast, ... science fiction fans have once again got used to the ease with which Captain Kirk gives the order for "shields up" and the crew of the Enterprise being protected instantly from the hostility of space. Perhaps though, a real Star Trek shield may no longer be science fiction — scientists at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) certainly think so. They have been testing a lightweight system to protect astronauts and spacecraft components from harmful radiation and working with colleagues in America to design a concept spaceship called Discovery that could take astronauts to the Moon or Mars. "Star Trek has great ideas — they just don't have to build it," said Ruth Bamford, lead researcher for the deflector shield project at RAL. ... The RAL plan is to create an environment around the spacecraft that mimics the Earth's magnetic field and recreates the protection we enjoy on the ground — they call it a mini magnetosphere." Related: 'Deflector Shields' protect the Lunar Surface.'"
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Scientists Work To Produce 'Star Trek' Deflector Shields

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget to be able to boost the shields with auxiliary, emergency and also war drive power... those are always used. Also extendable to protect other ships and maybe a functionality to raise the shields after a shot has been detected even if the "diplomatic" captain doesn't want to raise... since he is surely not going to die (maybe assimilated but no death)

  • Picture (Score:4, Informative)

    by daniel.garcia.romero (2755603) on Friday June 28, 2013 @09:38AM (#44131635)
    Amazing picture at the end of the article, be sure to not miss it.
  • Now if only they could do something about micrometeorites. Sadly I don't think this technology will help there. Still, it is a great idea.

    • If they're magnetized, it will.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      What are the actual odds of being hit?
      Are they that frequent outside our ring of garbage?

      Some amount of crew loss is going to be acceptable vs spending infinity dollars.

      • Re:Micrometeorites (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rockoon (1252108) on Friday June 28, 2013 @10:05AM (#44131893)
        Calculate the area of the 2D projection of a ship onto a plane perpendicular to its line of motion, multiply by the length of space traversed to get swept volume...

        Once you realize that this volume is always going to be enormous for any inter-planetary travel, even for a really really tiny craft, then you stop wondering why sometimes a probe that we send out suddenly stops responding for no obvious reason.
        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Once you realize space is mostly empty you might start wondering again.

          Also your calculation makes no sense. It assumes that this whole volume must stay micrometeorite free, when only the volume the ship is in at that time has that limitation.

          • Re:Micrometeorites (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Cenan (1892902) on Friday June 28, 2013 @10:57AM (#44132369)

            Mostly empty isn't good enough at the energies involved. It really doesn't matter what the probability for an impact is, since it is almost always going to be > 0. Even at the relatively pedestrian speeds of highway travel, a tiny pebble to the windshield does huge damage if it hits right.

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              If it only kills one out of every 100 crews, as an example, their made be no need to bother with additional expensive shielding.

              We do not need a risk of 0, just acceptable rates of crew loss.

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          And you realize that Voyager 1 and 2 are frigging miracles that they are still alive after making it through the Oort Cloud and the trashbin that is our interplanetary space.

          • by Rockoon (1252108)

            And you realize that Voyager 1 and 2 are frigging miracles that they are still alive after making it through the Oort Cloud and the trashbin that is our interplanetary space.

            ..or they were built to survive and operate while being turned into swiss cheese...

          • by tnk1 (899206)

            You mean the Kupier Belt. They're probably not even at the beginning of Oort Cloud yet. The Oort Cloud is supposed to go out as far as about 1 light-year from the Sun, and a purpose dedicated craft would probably take 30 years just to get to the beginning of it.

          • Re:Micrometeorites (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Sperbels (1008585) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:36AM (#44132785)

            And you realize that Voyager 1 and 2 are frigging miracles that they are still alive after making it through the Oort Cloud and the trashbin that is our interplanetary space.

            The Oort cloud is thought to extend out nearly a light year from the sun. Voyager 1 & 2 have most definitely not passed through it. But it's not like it's some super dense Star Wars style asteroid belt. You could fly a planet through it and not hit anything substantial.

          • In fact it is not really a miracle.
            They have an atomic battery, so no power issues.
            Their antennas are orientated the same direction since decades (no power need or trouble with engines and/or gear/transmissions/joints).
            The micro processors are on a level an Apple][ was 30 years ago. Same for the memory. The Voyagers will run indefinitely, or in other words: till they either hit something or the atomic battery is running low.

        • Re:Micrometeorites (Score:4, Interesting)

          by rotenberry (3487) on Friday June 28, 2013 @12:44PM (#44133857)

          The velocity of the craft does matter, and I will explain why.

          If the velocity of the craft is much greater than the particles (think of dust floating in the air), then the craft will indeed sweep out all the particles in its line of motion.

          However, the the velocity of the craft is much less that the particles (think cosmic rays in interplanetary space), then there will be the same number of collisions per unit time during the trip. A five hundred day trip will have ten times the number of collisions as a fifty day trip. Consequently, the faster your craft travels, the fewer particles you encounter during your journey.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        The ISS actually has an issue with micrometeorites hitting the station and making tiny jagged pockmarks which frequently cause problems with tearing fabric on spacesuits. The issue was dangerous enough that they needed to come up with some sort of clamp which allows the astronauts to place it over the damaged handles on the ISS exterior so that they could work without constantly degrading their suits with small tears.

        So, yeah, micrometeorites are fairly common. Admittedly, this is still in the near range

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        The amount of crew loss could be the entire ship. Is more expensive invest a little money in not getting there than investing a lot, but managing to reach your goal.
  • Aren't space shuttles and (maybe) capsules (from, say, Apollo program) alredy shielded from cosmic rays and radiation somewhat? It's not like engineers and physicists didn't know about them before the Mercury program even was started.

    Does it have anything to do with the length of the flight to Mars or the martian thin atmosphere not being able to filter them out?

    • by Captain Hook (923766) on Friday June 28, 2013 @10:03AM (#44131887)
      Space shuttles are low earth orbit only, they never leave Earths Magnetosphere anyway.

      Moon capsules did leave the Earths Magnetosphere but weren't shielded. They were protected by limited time in space (2 weeks at most) and luck that they weren't hit by decent solar storm.
    • by sjames (1099) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:36AM (#44132793) Homepage

      No, they're not. The engineers and physicists knew all about cosmic radiation but there was nothing they could do about it. The shuttle does well enough since it stays within Earth's magnetosphere.

      Apollo did leave the magnetosphere for part of it's mission and the Astronauts were exposed to radiation. They reported that they could see flashes of light believed to be caused by cosmic rays interacting with the fluid in their eyes. Had the sun flared at the wrong time, the crew would have been killed. Given the many risks of the Apollo mission, that was just one more and hardly the largest.

      However, a mission to Mars with the crew in space for much longer can't take that approach.

  • by yincrash (854885) on Friday June 28, 2013 @09:47AM (#44131725)
    deflector shields (which was emitted by the deflector dish) which were low powered and meant to deflect small particles and radiation, and defensive shields which were to protect against weapons and were emitted by various shield emitters on the hull. The summary really badly conflates the two.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 28, 2013 @09:55AM (#44131815)

      +1 NERD!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, the Enterprise had three types of shields.

      First was a set of low power static shields designed to deflect really small particles away from the ship during travel. Imagine a speck of dust striking the hull at full impulse speed.

      Second was the deflector dish that emits a deflector beam designed to push bigger particles away from the ship during travel, particles too big for the static shields. Imagine a pebble striking the hull at full impulse speed.

      Finally there are the main defensive shields use

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      Informative? Deflector shields (which were emitted by the deflector dish) were high powered. They were able to shunt vast amounts of power into that thing during various episodes, far more than into any other subsystem including the drives themselves, to solve one problem or another. At relativistic speeds, or superliminal speeds in their case, the interstellar gas gets blue shifted to remarkable energy levels. It's like having a nuclear detonation just off your bow, only it's sustained.
    • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday June 28, 2013 @10:16AM (#44131981) Journal

      Err, no. Both kinds were called deflector shields, in the canon. See: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Deflector_shield [memory-alpha.org]

      The lower level one emitted by the navigationa deflector (a.k.a., deflector dish) dish was nothing else than a lower intensity force field, but still a deflector shield. (http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Navigational_deflector [memory-alpha.org])

  • In other words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Friday June 28, 2013 @09:47AM (#44131731)

    When in doubt, copy nature.

  • the reason physical shielding has to be so thick and dense is the particles are so small and flying so fast that they run through normal matter like it's not hardly even there. (besides the occasional hitting a bit of your dna and knocking the atoms around like a clean break on a pool table) Magnetic deflection would just reroute the HEPs around the capsule. Wouldn't require much weight, but may be a bit power hungry.

    I don't know enough about magnetics though... I thought that it only takes significant e

  • Actually recreating the earths magnetosphere seemed so obvious, that the fact that they weren't doing this so far gave me the impression that there was something blocking this or nearly impossible.
     

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      Power requirements.
    • My college professor in plasma sciences told us - 13 years ago - that he invented and patented the deflector shields, using this method. He was working under an Air Force contract, and they immediately classified his patent.

      I suspect that is more likely the reason it wasn't being done (publicly) previously. I've assumed every Air Force satellite has had this for a decade.

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        My college professor in plasma sciences told us - 13 years ago - that he invented and patented the deflector shields, using this method. He was working under an Air Force contract, and they immediately classified his patent.

        Oh, sure he did. And then told you all about it. And you violated the law by not reporting him. If it weren't for the fact that he was almost certainly bullshitting you, I'd suggest you ask Ed S. if he could use a roommate in Ecuador.

        • by Sperbels (1008585)
          Well, the concept has been out there for some time. A specific design for generating the field could be patented and classified and he wouldn't be in trouble for mentioning it exists. It's like nuclear bombs. You don't get in trouble for talking about their existence. You get in trouble from discussing any information on their construction that might be classified though.
          • by geekoid (135745)

            It's bullshit becasue of the power requirements, which thanks to Einstein, we can figure out.

  • They have been testing a lightweight system to protect astronauts and spacecraft components from harmful radiation and working with colleagues in America to design a concept spaceship called Discovery that could take astronauts to the Moon or Mars.

    Shouldn't a ship called Discovery take them to Europa? (Or Iapetus?)

  • by OoSync (444928) <wellsed.gmail@com> on Friday June 28, 2013 @09:59AM (#44131841)

    This reminds me of M2P2 that was all the rage on this site a decade or so ago.
    Looks like the Dr. Winglee kept up some research, but their page was last updated in 2011.
    But, some pretty pictures, movies, and results from actual experiments.

    http://earthweb.ess.washington.edu/space/M2P2/ [washington.edu]

    If you've never heard of this, the basics are to create a magnetic sail by trapping plasma in a magnetic field around a spacecraft.
    Solar wind particles push against the plasma, which is able to expand the range of the magnetic field, and provide force to push the craft.
    This is somewhat similar to the concept of solar sails, except the plasma expands outward (increasing surface area exposed to the wind) as the density of the wind decreases. This provides more force than a solar sail the further you are from the sun.

    Another benefit was the plasma and magnetic field are deflecting solar particles, so it can shield the occupants, much as this article describes.

  • Build the spacecraft in space, using material from meteors or the moon. In fact just hollow out the meteor and move in.

    • All things being equal, you still have to accelerate your ship if you want to go anywhere it's not going already. For a given amount of propulsion capability, a more-massive-than-necessary ship will take longer to get somewhere.

      • by jo_ham (604554)

        And adding to that, you have to slow it down again at the other end, or any amount of course correction will require you to expend energy to move that unnecessarily large mass along a new vector.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Friday June 28, 2013 @10:11AM (#44131935)
    The Curiostiy RAD experiement Principal Investigation gave a talk about Martian radiation 6/26 in Denver.
    - 90% of the enroute radiation was from cosmic rays, the rest from solar flares. However a large solar storm could exceed cosmic ray levels.
    - The eight month trip resulted in over 300 milliseverts of radiation, about one third of the recommend lifetime human dose.
    - The thin Martian atmosphere greatly attenuates the surface radiation. But its still much higher than Earth.
    - Hydrogen rich materials like water or certain plastics are useful barriers against cosmic rays. The ISS current has plastic shielded sleeping areas (to wait out solar storms too). It has been suggested to store fresh and waste water in the walls where the astronauts live and work.
  • How much energy will it take to run this thing? If the ship is using something like an Ion engine that already demands tons of power, this could be a problem.
  • Personally, I've always liked the RAL plan.
  • ....scientists at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) certainly think so. They have been testing a lightweight system to protect astronauts and spacecraft components from harmful radiation and working with colleagues in America to design a concept spaceship called Discovery that could take astronauts to the Moon or Mars.....

    and it will be ready for production use in less than a year. (sarcasm)

    Hey, wait. Didn't we already have a craft called "Discovery?" [wikipedia.org]

    They really are nerdin' it out. :)

  • Engineering (Score:5, Informative)

    by celticryan (887773) on Friday June 28, 2013 @10:46AM (#44132269)
    Active shielding (as opposed to passive shielding that uses more mass of materials) is not a new idea [1]. The Rutherford Appleton Group every other year or so contacts NASA saying, look what we can do. Annoyingly, they do the contacting of NASA through the State department occasionally... NASA looks at their design, says "Uh huh, have you done a tech. demo yet?"
    RAL says, "Yes, here are the results."
    NASA says, "Yes, but this is for 10 MeV electrons. Which are not really part of the space radiation problem. Where are the higher energy proton and heavy ion results?"
    RAL says, "..."

    Space radiation protection is fundamentally different from terrestrial radiation protection. Space radiation is much higher energy and consists mainly of protons (but also heavy ions are important due to the Z^2 effect of radiation dose). And it is omnipresent - you cannot get away from space radiation - it is everywhere.

    See, the problem with the unconfined magnetic field work is that the size and mass of the equipment to make a magnetic dipole against cosmic rays is prohibitive. The most recent analysis that I know of is by Paluzek [2] and needs a million kg in equipment with a diameter of 100 meters...

    A nice review of the science and engineering aspects of active shielding can be found in Townsend (2005) [1].

    [1] Townsend, L.W., "Critical analysis of active shielding methods for space radiation protection," Aerospace Conference, 2005 IEEE , vol., no., pp.724,730, 5-12 March 2005, doi: 10.1109/AERO.2005.1559364
    [2] M. A. Paluszek, “Magnetic Radiation Shielding forPermanent Space Habitats,” in The Industrialization of Space: Proceedings of the Twenty-third Annual Meeting, American Astronautical Society,36 Part 1, 545-574, 1978.
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      you're not thinking this through properly...

      NASA says, "Yes, but this is for 10 MeV electrons. Which are not really part of the space radiation problem. Where are the higher energy proton and heavy ion results?"
      RAL says, "
      give us some funding and we'll go expand our research".

      See, that's why they contact the state department, who know nothing about science but have lots of cash they already fritter away.

  • ... big-ass magnetic fields around a spaceship, could the same magnetic fields be used for propulsion (by interacting with the magnetic field of the sun or another nearby celestial body, or with the solar wind)? Would be nice to move around without having to carry reaction mass ...
  • by tinkerton (199273) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:07AM (#44132465)

    I thought a thin layer of matter was pretty good at stopping ionized particles such as alpha and beta rays, while you needed a thick slab of matter to stop gamma rays. An electromagnetic deflector will not interact with gamma rays. I'm getting an impression here that a deflector is only useful for cases where there's a cheap alternative.

    It could probably deflect pretty powerful ionized particles though, because you can mount it at a long distance from your spacecraft so that a little bit of deflection is enough.

    • Not quite. Cosmic rays are made up of mainly very energetic protons (compared to low energy alphas (helium nuclei) or betas (electrons)) which are very penetrating. For instance, the average range of a 500 MeV proton (near the peak in the cosmic ray spectrum) in aluminum (a common spacecraft pressure vehicle) is about 55 cm or almost 2 feet of aluminum. That is a huge amount of material to put into space.

      So, you are correct, stopping low energy particles, especially light low energy particles doesn't
      • by geekoid (135745)

        "That is a huge amount of material to put into space. "
        I would like to point out that all the aluminum that exists is already in space.

        It may be expensive at the current moment to get of this island floating through space, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      If terrestrial alpha and beta are like being hit with a foam tennis ball, then cosmic rays out in space beyond the Earth's magnetosphere are like being hit with a golf ball fired out of a high powered cannon.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Pretty sad that your post got modded up to +5.

      I'm getting an impression here that a deflector is only useful for cases where there's a cheap alternative.

      See Solar Wind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_wind [wikipedia.org]
      And also Cosmic Rays: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray [wikipedia.org]
      And Particle Radiation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particle_radiation [wikipedia.org]

      If you've got a "cheap alternative", we'd all like to hear about it.

  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Friday June 28, 2013 @11:29AM (#44132709)

    "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that."

  • Basically, "we think it would be cool to fly in outer space, and Star Trek thought of this idea, so give us 10M GBP and we'll dick around with some stuff for a few years, culminating in another riveting 6 point slide deck where we announce it can't be done."

  • by geekoid (135745)

    After installing the Star Trek deflector belt, I have become interested in hygiene, interesting conversation and moving out of my moms basement.

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