How can superconductors be used to protect spaceships from radiation in space?

In summary, the conversation discusses the potential use of giant superconducting magnetic fields to protect spaceships and space stations from charged particles in space. It is noted that the Meissner effect, which excludes magnetic fields from superconductors, could be used in this way. However, it is also mentioned that the size and power of the field would need to be significant in order to have a noticeable impact on relativistic charged particles. The conversation also briefly touches on the idea of using charged particles as fuel for a solar sail and the potential for using particle accelerators for propulsion.
  • #1
John d Marano
46
4
This might be another silly question but here it goes;

I was reading how " A superconductor excludes the lines of magnetic force" http://www.aip.org/history/mod/superconductivity/01.html and I'm wondering if a giant superconducting magnetic field could help protect spaceships/space stations by deflecting charged particles? It's not a totally impractical question considering how cold space is it shouldn't be hard to maintain a large superconductor . . .Regards,
JDM
 
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  • #2
John d Marano said:
This might be another silly question but here it goes;

I was reading how " A superconductor excludes the lines of magnetic force" http://www.aip.org/history/mod/superconductivity/01.html and I'm wondering if a giant superconducting magnetic field could help protect spaceships/space stations by deflecting charged particles? It's not a totally impractical question considering how cold space is it shouldn't be hard to maintain a large superconductor . . .Regards,
JDM
(bolding mine)

I think that's what caught me off guard, the first time I read it, many years ago.
It has since been revised:

wiki said:
The Meissner effect is the expulsion of a magnetic field from a superconductor during its transition to the superconducting state.
 
  • #3
John d Marano said:
...and I'm wondering if a giant superconducting magnetic field could help protect spaceships/space stations by deflecting charged particles? It's not a totally impractical question considering how cold space is it shouldn't be hard to maintain a large superconductor . . .

That's a good question. Since the field is so small in size (compared to the Earth's field), it would probably have to be very powerful to have a noticeable impact on relativistic charged particles. Unfortunately I don't know any details.
 
  • #4
Drakkith said:
That's a good question. Since the field is so small in size (compared to the Earth's field), it would probably have to be very powerful to have a noticeable impact on relativistic charged particles. Unfortunately I don't know any details.

Can't sleep tonight [again] so I'll wonder aloud;

If superconducting fields can deflect relativistic charged particles I wonder if a funnel shaped superconductor could channel those particles to fuel a solar sail . . .

JDM
 
  • #5
John d Marano said:
Can't sleep tonight [again] so I'll wonder aloud;

If superconducting fields can deflect relativistic charged particles I wonder if a funnel shaped superconductor could channel those particles to fuel a solar sail . . .

JDM

Solar sails don't work off of charged particles. Besides, relativistic particles tend to go through things rather than simply impact and accelerate them. This tends to damage the material as well.
 
  • #6
I just finished reading a paper on this problem:
RADIATION HAZARD OF RELATIVISTIC INTERSTELLAR FLIGHT
by Oleg G. Semyonov

He lists some very good ideas:
Water, aluminum, titanium, and magnetic shielding.
The magnetic shield requires an electron stripper to be effective.

His last line seems hopeful:

Oleg Semyonov said:
Nevertheless, the shielding of relativistic starships from hard ionizing radiation produced by interstellar gas and cosmic rays does not seem to be far beyond existing technology.

His graph "b" on page 4 is interesting. With no shielding, at v = 0.1c, the radiation level is 90 REM/sec. Which from my memory, yields an LD-50 in only 5 seconds!

Hmmm...
0.1c = 30,000,000 m/sec
vessel radius = 5 m
vessel frontal area = π*102 = 78.5 m2
interstellar composition(from Oleg's paper) = 89% hydrogen + 10% helium + 1% other
interstellar density = 2E5 atoms/m3
hydrogen to deal with = 4.71E14 atoms/sec
mass of hydrogen atom = 1.66E-27 kg
Just calculating for the hydrogen, we get 0.000000000000782 kg collected or deflected per second.
Doesn't sound too difficult.

I do like the idea of collecting the hydrogen though.
Someone should figure out what the propulsive effect would be if we used particle accelerators to use them as thrust material, at say, 0.99c.
It seems such a waste to just throw things away.
But then the ship would accelerate to relativistically significant speeds, and then things would get way over my head.
Never mind.

hmmm...
γ = 1/√(1-v^2/c^2) = 7.09 @ 0.99c
mass of vehicle = 320000 kg (10 x a Greyhound bus. We're going to need a small nuclear reactor)
KE of hydrogen propellant = (γ-1)*mc^2 = 429,000 joules
Δv of vessel per second = √(2*ke/m) = 1.64 m/s
Time to accelerate to 0.2c = 7 months.
yup. Way over my head.
 

1. What are superconductors?

Superconductors are materials that have zero electrical resistance when cooled below a certain temperature, known as the critical temperature. This allows for electrical current to flow through them without any loss of energy, making them incredibly efficient for conducting electricity.

2. How are superconductors useful in space exploration?

Superconductors have various applications in space exploration, including in the development of electric propulsion systems, magnetic shielding, and in the construction of superconducting magnets for particle accelerators. They also have potential uses in energy storage and in the creation of sensitive detectors for detecting gravitational waves.

3. What challenges do superconductors face in space?

The main challenge for using superconductors in space is the need for extremely low temperatures to maintain their superconducting properties. This can be difficult to achieve in space due to the lack of a natural cooling mechanism. Additionally, the extreme conditions of space, such as radiation and microgravity, can also affect the performance of superconductors.

4. Are there any ongoing projects or missions involving superconductors and space?

Yes, there are several ongoing projects and missions that involve superconductors and space. One example is the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will use superconducting magnets for its propulsion system. There are also plans to use superconducting magnets for future space telescopes and in the construction of fusion reactors for space travel.

5. How might the use of superconductors in space benefit us on Earth?

The use of superconductors in space has the potential to benefit us on Earth in various ways. For example, the development of efficient electric propulsion systems can lead to more sustainable and cost-effective methods of transportation. Superconducting magnets can also have uses in renewable energy production and in medical imaging technology.

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