CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) physicists and engineering located in Geneva, Switzerland, is researching the possibility of developing a superconducting shield to protect astronauts against radiation during deep space expeditions.
Astronauts are vulnerable to radiation from the sun during deep space expeditions because of the absence of a magnetosphere that protects the Earth. Without some kind of protection, astronauts are susceptible to an assortment of cancers. Because of this, missions to Mars and other planets could be in jeopardy if a form of protection is not created.
CERN is testing the feasibility of developing an active magnetic field that can surround a spacecraft which would protect astronauts from high-energy radiation particles.
The group plans to test a superconductor coil magnet made of magnesium diboride. It is actually the same type of conductor CERN developed for the Large Hadron Collider.
If the superconductor coil magnet works, then there are many more trials that will confront the development of a shield. For example, a number of magnetic structures must be examined and compared and new technologies would have to be developed to cross the concept from science fiction to reality.
A magnet made of magnesium diboride may prove to be ideal for the mission because it can function in temperatures as hot as 25K giving the spacecraft a cryogenic or cooling system.
A specific date for the test has not been announced. However, Bernardo Bondini, coordinator of CERN SR25 projects, has said, “…we will test in the coming months.”
Meanwhile, an Israeli company, StemRad in Tel Aviv, has begun a joint research and development project with Lockheed Martin to develop radiation-shielding technology. The company has developed a vest that protects the source of bone marrow stem cells from gamma radiation exposure and they believe that it can be adapted to provide protection to astronauts traveling in deep space.