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Radiation Shielding Technologies for Aerospace and Defense Electronics in Deep Space Missions

As human exploration of deep space becomes more of a reality, radiation shielding technologies are becoming increasingly important to protect aerospace and defense electronics. Radiation in deep space can be extremely harmful to electronic components, causing malfunctions, data loss, and even complete system failure.

One of the biggest threat to the deployed aerospace and defense electronics systems is radiation. Long term exposure of astronauts to radiation is equally challenging. This force can occur naturally in space and at high altitudes on Earth, or can come in massive doses from the detonation of nuclear weapons. Deep-space and long-duration missions, where both crew members and spacecraft no longer benefit from the protection of Earth’s magnetic fields, are considered high risk for adverse radiation impacts.

Even aircraft flying at altitudes of around 30,000 feet and above are beginning to encounter radiation-induced effects, as there are 500 times more neutrons present at this altitude compared to ground level.

Ionizing radiation can cause significant problems for electronic devices. Ionizing radiation refers to radiation that has enough energy to remove electrons from atoms or molecules, leading to the formation of positively charged ions. This type of radiation can come from various sources, including the sun, cosmic rays, and radioactive materials. When ionizing radiation interacts with electronic devices, it can cause significant problems by altering the electrical properties of the materials or components within the device.

For example, ionizing radiation can cause current leakage or short circuits in electronic devices, leading to malfunctions or complete failure. It can also lead to data loss, memory bit flipping, and other errors that can compromise the functionality of the device. Additionally, ionizing radiation can cause cumulative damage to electronic devices over time, reducing their operational lifespan and reliability.

The high-energy particles that bombard spacecraft can damage or even destroy electronic components. This can lead to mission failures, loss of data, or even injury or death to astronauts.


For deeper understanding on Radiation threats and Radiation please visit: Beyond the Stars: Radiation Shielding Technologies for Aerospace and Defense Electronics in Deep Space Missions


There are various measures used to protect electronic circuits from radiation.

Ensuring the reliable operation of microcircuits and software in outer space is an important scientific and economic objective.

  1. Radiation Hardening

Radiation hardening is a process in which electronic components are designed and manufactured to be more resistant to the effects of radiation. This involves using materials that can withstand radiation, as well as designing circuits that are less susceptible to ionizing radiation. There are different levels of radiation hardening, from “radiation tolerant” to “radiation hardened”. Radiation tolerant electronics can withstand a certain amount of radiation, while radiation hardened electronics can withstand much higher levels of radiation.

  1. Shielding Materials

Another way to protect aerospace and defense electronics from radiation is through the use of shielding materials. These materials are designed to absorb or deflect radiation, preventing it from reaching the electronic components. Common materials used for shielding include lead, tungsten, and boron. These materials can be used in the construction of spacecraft or in the design of electronic components themselves.

  1. Active Shielding

Active shielding is a newer technology that uses magnetic fields to protect electronic components from radiation. This involves creating a magnetic field around the electronic component that deflects charged particles away. Active shielding can be more effective than passive shielding materials, but it requires more power and is still in the experimental stage.

  1. Radiation Detection and Mitigation

Another important aspect of radiation protection for aerospace and defense electronics is radiation detection and mitigation. This involves monitoring the levels of radiation and taking steps to mitigate its effects. For example, if a radiation spike is detected, the spacecraft can be maneuvered to shield the electronic components from the radiation.

  1. Radiation Hardened Processing

Finally, another technology used for radiation protection is radiation-hardened processing. This involves using specialized processors that are designed to operate in high-radiation environments. These processors are designed to be more robust and can withstand higher levels of radiation than standard processors.


There are other ways of dealing with space radiation, ranging from redundant subsystems, selective shielding, and upscreening commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics for enhanced reliability.

  • Redundancy: Redundancy is a design approach that uses multiple copies of electronic components. If one component is damaged by radiation, another component can take its place.
  • Error-checking: Error-checking is a software technique that can detect and correct errors caused by radiation.



The best radiation shielding technology for a particular application will depend on a number of factors, including the type of radiation, the distance from Earth, and the cost and weight constraints.

Here are some of the challenges of using radiation shielding technologies in deep space:

  • Weight: Radiation shielding materials are typically very heavy, which can add to the weight of a spacecraft. This can limit the amount of fuel and other payload that can be carried.
  • Cost: Radiation shielding technologies can be expensive to develop and manufacture. This can add to the overall cost of a spacecraft mission.
  • Complexity: Radiation shielding technologies can be complex to design and install. This can add to the risk of errors during the development and construction of a spacecraft.

Despite the challenges, radiation shielding technologies are essential for protecting electronic components in deep space. By using these technologies, spacecraft can be designed to withstand the harsh radiation environment of deep space and complete their missions successfully.


Here are some examples of how radiation shielding technologies are being used in deep space missions:

  • The International Space Station (ISS) is equipped with a variety of radiation shielding technologies, including lead shielding, active shielding, and redundancy. This shielding helps to protect the ISS and its crew from the high-energy particles that bombard the space station on a daily basis.
  • The Curiosity rover is equipped with a radiation-hardened computer and a radiation-shielded housing. This shielding helps to protect the rover’s electronics from the high-energy particles that are present on Mars.
  • The New Horizons spacecraft is equipped with a Whipple shield, which is a type of active shielding that uses a series of thin metal plates to deflect high-energy particles. This shielding helped to protect the spacecraft’s electronics from the high-energy particles that it encountered during its flyby of Pluto.


Researchers Develop Smaller, Lighter Radiation Shielding

One is the shielding of electronics which is not only expensive, but it also can be heavy enough to adversely influence launch costs. Weight is a significant factor in designing aerospace technologies, and the shielding most commonly found in aerospace devices consists of putting 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.


Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for shielding military and space exploration electronics from ionizing radiation by mixing oxidized metal powder, or rust, into a polymer and incorporating it into conformal coatings. This cost-effective method provides shielding comparable to a conventional shield, reduces weight and space taken up by shielding, and reduces both gamma radiation and neutron radiation damage.


The technique also reduces the need for conventional shielding materials on space-based electronics and offers potential commercial use. This approach provides shielding comparable to conventional shielding techniques, but with a 30% reduction in weight or improved shielding by 30% compared to existing techniques. The researchers are continuing to test and refine their shielding technique for various applications.



In conclusion, radiation shielding technologies are critical for protecting aerospace and defense electronics in deep space missions. These technologies include radiation hardening, shielding materials, active shielding, radiation detection and mitigation, and radiation hardened processing. As human exploration of deep space continues, it is likely that new radiation shielding technologies will continue to be developed and refined, ensuring the safety and reliability of electronic systems in these extreme environments. By developing new and improved radiation shielding technologies, we can help to ensure the safety of our astronauts and spacecraft as they venture into the unknown.





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