Radiation Belt Modelling For Living With A Star
March 20, 2011 8:22 PM   Subscribe

The Van Allen Belt is a pesky radioactive torus surrounding Earth. Spacecraft operating for extended periods within it must use heavy and expensive radiation hardening techniques just to survive. Tethers Unlimited has proposed a rather daring scheme for circumventing this nuisance: HiVOLT.

If we ever decide we want our radiation belt back, we have options, so it's cool.
posted by Casimir (23 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Twice now I've bought static straps for my cars. They didn't work either time. Outer space is much larger than the distance from a car to the ground, so clearly this will not work.

Only half-joking about its predicted failure; can someone technical explain how the radiation won't simply redistribute itself once these tethers suck a tiny bit of it up?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:36 PM on March 20, 2011

Ben was right!! We should have waited... should have gotten heavier shielding!
posted by Scoo at 8:38 PM on March 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

The deadly consequences of ignoring space radiation!... Oh, wait, someone got there first?
posted by Artw at 8:47 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Man, from their website Tethers Unlimited are really keen on tethers!
posted by Artw at 8:52 PM on March 20, 2011

What could possibly go wrong?
posted by maxwelton at 8:55 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

New band: Van Allen and the Pesky Belts.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:15 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Old band: The Van Allen Belt
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:18 PM on March 20, 2011

At the very least it provides convenient cover for the orbital death ray you know the Pentagon wants so very very much.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:54 PM on March 20, 2011

The bottom of the NASA page has a nice summary:

2002 - A company called Teathers Unlimited proposes a clever way to remove the radiation belts. In the HiVOLT system, a long -- nominally some 62 miles (100 kilometers) long conducting, uninsulated tether would be deployed from a satellite in an equatorial, slightly elliptical orbit. A power supply on the satellite would then be used to charge up the tether to a large voltage relative to the space environment. This voltage would create a region of strong electric field near the tether. Radiation belt particles randomly encountering the tether have their pitch angle increased or decreased. As a net result, there are particles that leave the belt immediately. They decay into the Earth's upper atmosphere.
posted by jeblis at 10:01 PM on March 20, 2011

Hardcore Poser: The particles come from elsewhere (the solar wind), and the Earth's magnetic fields tend to collect them in the radiation belts. The tether would sweep particles from the belts faster than they are currently removed by other processes, so — once everything reaches equilibrium — there would be fewer particles in there than there are currently. At least that's the proposal. As an analogy, imagine vacuuming your house daily vs weekly: the cat/dog is still shedding at the same rate so you still have dust bunnies but you have fewer of them.
posted by hattifattener at 10:19 PM on March 20, 2011

So this is some kind of radiation Roomba?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:21 PM on March 20, 2011

ZeusHumms: "So this is some kind of radiation Roomba?"

Like putting too much air into a balloon!
Of course! It's all so simple now!
posted by danny the boy at 10:36 PM on March 20, 2011

If we decided it was a bad idea, couldn't you just turn it off and wait a little while? How long does it take to replenish?

Sure, but as long as we're tinkering with supra-planetary phenomena, let's try to get it just right, why not?
posted by Casimir at 10:39 PM on March 20, 2011

Looks like the inner belt has particle lifetimes up to 10 years! (from Van Allen Radiation Belts)

Hmm, wouldn't one side effect of clearing the Van Allen belts be that we wouldn't have auroras any more? That would be sad.
posted by hattifattener at 10:42 PM on March 20, 2011

The replenishment procedure is known as the Van Allen Belt and Suspenders plan.
posted by benzenedream at 12:14 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Older band: The Van Allen Belt Experience
posted by the noob at 3:10 AM on March 21, 2011

Just plugging my place of work here; Radiation Belt Storm Probes are a pair of NASA spacecraft due to launch soon (2016? Is that soon?) to orbit in the Van Allen Belt. Built by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins U.
posted by newdaddy at 5:24 AM on March 21, 2011

The side effect of messing with the VARBs? Probably the lack of shielding that deflects some of the nasty stuff the Sun throws our way.
But let's just say that this works. You've now turned your entire ability to put stuff in orbit over to a private company. Sounds a lot like many Sci-Fi stories where the company owns the air you breath and you're working just to keep sucking oxygen.
And oblink: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. God, I feel old.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:26 AM on March 21, 2011

Radiation Belt Storm Probes: cool videos here.
posted by newdaddy at 5:30 AM on March 21, 2011

Dear Plato,

I'm not running back into the cave or anything but it would be nice to have a bit more confidence that our understanding of these things is deep enough to foresee unintended consequences.

And by the way, f*ck you and the dolphins.


The Tuna.
posted by nickrussell at 5:45 AM on March 21, 2011

Best band: Van 'Alen
posted by Sys Rq at 12:20 PM on March 21, 2011

What a great idea, what could possibly go wrong? I'm sure that we'll find out soon enough.

I have a great plan for solving the oil crisis by taping into the heat form the earth core. I'm sure that'll work just as well.
posted by Four Flavors at 2:56 PM on March 21, 2011

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