|Source: Museum of Flight|
Orion is the first spacecraft designed to transport astronauts as far as Mars. NASA plans to launch the first Orion test flight later this year. Longer distance space flight poses a number of design challenges.
“In deep space the challenges are zero gravity and a radiation environment. So bone loss, muscle loss and the radiation as you don’t have the atmosphere of the Earth to protect you,” said Laurence Price Deputy Program Manager at Lockheed Martin.
Price is talking about the Van Allen Belt, a tightly packed field of radiation around the earth that acts as a layer that protects earth from charged ions. NASA has to study this area of radiation before they can send a manned spaceflight through it, and possibly on to Mars sometime after 2020.
The test flight will allow NASA to, among other things, experiment with different approaches to shielding radiation.
To come up with a radiation shield, Lockheed Martin, NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) created the Orion spacecraft Exploration Design Challenge for high school students. “So the idea behind the challenge is to get the students interested in something that is very necessary and we need to make a lot of progress in it… the students put a proposal together and build an experiment to measure the different approaches to radiation shielding,” said Price.
Student teams from around the country participated in the competition.
While at the USA Science and Engineering Festival last week, the winning design was announced by Team ARES from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, VA.
The American Radiation Eradication in Space (ARES) team created a 7” cubic shield called the Tesseract. It will house and protect a dosimeter from radiation while in flight. The final incarnation will be made of Tantalum, Tin, Zirconium, Aluminum, and Polyethylene. The heavy metals will block gamma rays while ions and neutrons are captured by the hydrocarbons of the polyethylene. The students selected their materials based on cost, malleability, machinability, weight, and abundance. Thanks to CAD models, the design was made to have flanges and bolts which allow the Tesseract to be strong, easily produced, and opened.
Orion Spacecraft will carry Radiation Shield designed by High School Students