Advanced Magnet Lab Teams with NASA to Develop Superconducting Magnets for Space Radiation Protection

Palm Bay, Florida (November 16, 2011) — Advanced Magnet Lab, Inc. (AML) announced today that the Company is teaming with NASA Johnson Space Center on a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant for advancement of space radiation shielding. Radiation exposure caused by solar wind and cosmic ray background is a major issue for human space exploration missions. The goal of the research is the development of a lightweight superconducting magnetic shielding system as a means to protect crew from space radiation exposure on long duration missions beyond low Earth orbit. The advanced concepts selected for study under NIAC were chosen based on their potential to transform our future space missions, enable new capabilities or significantly alter current approaches to launching, building and operating space systems.

Similar to the earth’s magnetic field which protects the earth from space radiation, a space vehicle surrounded by a magnetic field would provide radiation protection for astronauts. Launching and deploying a vehicle surrounded by powerful magnets presents a technical challenge due to the stringent weight and safety requirements. Development of magnets providing strong magnetic fields which are lightweight and deployable requires enabling technology.

According to Shayne Westover, NASA’s Principal Investigator for the NIAC grant, “the concept of shielding astronauts with magnetic/electric fields has been studied for over 40 years and has remained an intractable engineering problem. Superconducting magnet technology has made great strides in the last decade. Coupling maturing technology with potential innovative magnet configurations, this proposal aims to revisit the concept of active magnetic shielding.” It is AML’s intent to use its innovative Double-Helix™ magnet configurations to meet NASA’s need for space radiation shielding.

AML has been considering superconducting magnet solutions for space radiation shielding for many years. Recently, AML engaged with the University of Perugia (UNIPG) and National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), Italy, to investigate UNIPG’s concept for applying AML’s innovative technology to provide unique flexibility in the design and construction of very large magnets for space. This work provided a baseline for the NIAC award, which will compare magnetic shielding performance and design mass with alternate passive shielding methods such as aluminum.  The study will look at efficiency, mass, and assembly/architecture concepts to deflect high cosmic radiation and solar proton events. Augmenting AML’s research is a team of space radiation experts from NASA, UNIPG, INFN, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National High Magnetic Field Lab.

AML’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Rainer Meinke says, “AML’s proposed solution is based on a concept of an ultra-light mechanical support structure and AML’s Double-Helix™ superconducting magnet technology. Using superconductors allows very high electrical currents to travel in a small and lightweight conductor. These high currents are required to reach the strong magnetic fields needed for sufficient radiation shielding. AML’s technology is enabling due to the inherent flexibility to configure such conductors into the optimum magnetic field shape for deflecting the radiation particles while also self-containing the large magnetic forces.”

Headquartered in Palm Bay, Florida, AML has over 16 years experience developing unique technology for energy, medical, defense and space applications. Core to AML’s technology and capabilities is a team of international experts in the fields of high-power magnet systems, superconductivity, robotics and manufacturing. AML’s comprehensive intellectual property portfolio includes enabling software, magnet and manufacturing technology.