Researchers Create Lighter Rusty radiation shielding for Space Technology
Rust may be generally unwelcome, but scientists at North Carolina State University are using it to develop a new radiation shielding that is lighter and cheaper than conventional materials. Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for shielding electronics in military and space exploration technology from ionizing radiation. Aimed at protecting delicate electronics in space and other hostile environments, it promises weight savings of at least 30 percent.
The new strategy is more cost-effective than the present techniques, and the key ingredient is rust. “Our approach can be used to maintain the same level of radiation shielding and reduce the weight by 30% or more, or you could maintain the same weight and improve shielding by 30% or more — compared to the most widely used shielding techniques,” says Rob Hayes, co-author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of nuclear engineering at NC State.
Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for shielding electronics in military and space exploration technology from ionizing radiation. This has been viewed as providing the best tradeoff between a shield’s weight and the protection it provides.
Ionizing radiation can cause vital problems for electronic devices. To guard against this, units that could be exposed to radiation—reminiscent of devices utilized in spacecraft—incorporate radiation shielding. Outside the Earth’s atmosphere and the protection of its magnetic field, deep space missions are especially vulnerable to ionizing cosmic rays tearing at delicate microcircuitry, resulting in malfunctions and failures.
Weight is a crucial factor in designing aerospace technologies and the shielding most commonly present in aerospace devices consists of placing an aluminum box around any sensitive technologies. This has been viewed as providing the best tradeoff between a shield’s weight and the protection it provides.
The new method relies on mixing oxidized metal powder – rust – into a polymer, and then incorporating it into a typical conformal coating on the related electronics. “Metal oxide powder offers less shielding than a metal powder would, but oxides are less toxic and don’t pose electromagnetic challenges that could interfere with a device’s operation,” Hayes says.
“Radiation transport calculations show that inclusion of the metal oxide powder provides shielding comparable to a conventional shield,” says Mike DeVanzo, a former graduate student at NC State and first author on the work. “At low energies, the metal oxide powder reduces both gamma radiation to the electronics by a factor of 300 and the neutron radiation damage by 225%.”
To protect against this, electronics on space missions are sealed in special shielded boxes made of aluminum or other metals to reduce radiation exposure and extend the life of the circuitry. “On top of that, the oxide particulate is much less expensive than the same amount of the pure metal,” Hayes says.
“This could potentially reduce the need for conventional shielding materials on space-based electronics,” adds DeVanzo, who works at Lockheed Martin Space.
The researchers are continuing to test and fine-tune their shielding technique for use in various applications. The team is currently refining the shielding technique as well as seeking commercial partners to develop it for commercial applications.