Radiation is one of the many, many issues crewed space exploration programmes must negotiate somewhat blindly. Now, thanks to a partnership between the ESA, European institutions and Irish research centre the Tyndall Institute, that could be about to change.
A new sensor that measures radiation levels in real time before reporting the findings straight back has been developed by Tyndall, and it’s heading to the ISS this summer.
Previous sensors meant radiation exposure was revealed to astronauts upon their return to Earth, which, while incredibly informative, is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
A collaborative effort
Tyndall’s new wearable device – which also had other institutions such as the German Aerospace Centre (DLR, project co-ordinator), RADOS/Mirion of Finland, Seibersdorf Laboratories of Austria, and PTB of Germany working on it – can instantly warn astronauts of increased and dangerous radiation levels.
It has already been tested aboard the ISS and, from June this year, will feature permanently on our orbital outpost.
“Currently, astronauts use radiation detection devices that are passive and only get analysed on their return to tell them what radiation dose they received,” explained Tyndall’s Dr Aleksandar Jaksic.
“If a catastrophic radiation event happens, like a solar flare, they will not know about it in time to protect themselves and hide in more shielded modules of the ISS.
Plenty of space for this
“But this device, which can be worn in a pocket, shows the radiation levels in real time and can alarm astronauts if the dose goes above a certain threshold. In addition, it enables a time-resolved personal radiation record for each astronaut.”
The creation is a small phone-sized device worn by the astronaut, with a charge point kept on board the ISS that both gives the gizmo more juice and downloads and sends on all the data gathered each day.
This project is just the latest in Tyndall’s six-year relationship with the ESA, with further Irish space involvement destined after a start-up incubator was announced yesterday.
A joint Enterprise Ireland-ESA initiative, the new Space Business Incubation Centre in Ireland (ESA BIC Ireland) aims to attract, and further, 25 start-ups in Ireland over the next five years.
Earth image via Shutterstock