The Europa Clipper spacecraft needs special protection from radiation due to the environment around Jupiter. It has a strong magnetic field, 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s, and the sphere rotates like the Earth. A fast-moving environment can block particles that produce high-energy radiation.
“Jupiter has a much more intense atmosphere than the Sun,” said Europa Clipper Radiation Focus Group chairperson Insoo Jun of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Radiation patterns are affecting every aspect of the job.”
Orbiting around Jupiter instead of Europa itself would help avoid some of the radiation, but the spacecraft would still need extra shielding. Its most sensitive parts are the electronics, which are contained within a half-inch black aluminum enclosure that shields them from radiation.
“The room was designed to reduce the radiation environment to be acceptable for many electronic devices,” Jun said.
Research has found that although aluminum works as a radiation shield, other effective shields can contain several layers of different materials, such as metals such as molybdenum. The issue of space missions is always heavy, because thick metal shields are heavy, and putting mass into space is difficult and expensive.
The issue of radiation protection will become more important when people are sent to deep space in the future, because it is dangerous for people and electronic equipment. Some of the ideas being tested to protect future astronauts include radiation shielding clothing, using Martian soil as a radiation shield, or sending workers underground where they would be safer from radiation than on the surface.